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Food and media companies donated generously to lawmakers opposing food marketing guidelines for kids

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Last summer, a bipartisan group of House members from Pennsylvania wrote federal agencies complaining that proposed guidelines restricting the marketing of unhealthy food to children marked “an alarming regulatory overreach.” They emphasized their sugary roots in “the leading confectionary producing state in the nation.” 

Indeed, Pennsylvania is home to the 117-year-old Hershey Company, maker of the ubiquitous Hershey’s kiss. But what the lawmakers from the Keystone State didn’t say was that they had other “constituents”—out-of-state campaign cash constituents, many of them Washington-based trade associations. 

The massive lobbying push by food and media interests against the controversial guidelines appeared to reach its goal last weekend as Congress voted to delay the guidelines as part the budget deal. Tucked into the massive bill: A measure, backed by opponents of the guidelines, calling for the government to study the costs of any advertising limitations before implementing them. That will effectively put off any efforts to issuing the voluntary guidelines on the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and sodium to children. 

The Pennsylvanians' letter, sent July 18, was one of two sent by members of Congress to head off the marketing guidelines that the Sunlight Foundation obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. An analysis using transparencydata.com of campaign contributors to the two groups of lawmakers reveals that some of the groups lobbying against the ad guidelines have plenty of chits to collect from members of Congress.  

The 15 Pennsylvania members of Congress who signed the letter raising concerns about the guidelines have together collected at least $546,765 in campaign contributions from interests that reported lobbying against restrictions on marketing unhealthy food to kids. The contributions included $159,291 from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), $153,500 from the National Restaurant Association, and $61,660 from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). 

These trade associations have also been generous to a group of 19 Republican senators who sent a letter to federal agencies on July 15 raising questions about the guidelines. The NCTA has given the senators $262,896; the National Restaurant Association, $403,700; and the National Association of Broadcasters, $242,864.

The senators have taken more than $3 million over the course of their careers from interests that reported lobbying against the guidelines. 

Johanns IWG Letter

Opponents of the guidelines who donated to the letter-writing lawmakers also include Campbell Soup, Cargill Inc., Pepsico, McDonalds, Time Warner, and Walt Disney.

The relationship between the interest groups and many of the lawmakers are long standing: Most of these donors did not make their first contributions to a particular lawmaker this year as the controversy over the food marketing guidelines heated up. Instead, they have been steady supporters who have a long list of lobbying concerns before Congress. Some are home town interests, others are based elsewhere but may be directing money because of a committee assignment or because they give money widely to many members of Congress.

The Nebraska-based company Con-Agra is Sen. Michael Johanns’ second largest career donor. As a member of the Agriculture Committee,  the Nebraska Republican has drawn contributions from food companies based around the country, such as Kentucky-based Yum! Brands, Illinois-based Kraft foods, and Georgia-based Coca-Cola.  Johanns was one of the lead signers of the Senate letter. 

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa.,  a lead on the House letter, also posted an opinion piece in October on his website charging that the nutrition standards “would make American grocery stores look like … old Soviet Bloc stores…Chocolate Easter Bunnies would be made extinct, along with gummy snacks and pasta shaped like cartoon characters.”

As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Pitts has drawn increasing amounts of contributions over the years from the communications industry, including more than $33,000 from the NCTA and more than $13,000 from NAB. 

Like the other letter-signers, he also gets ample campaign money from donors who did not formally report lobbying on the food guidelines but still have an interest in the outcome. For example, his third top career donor is the Pennsylvania-based snack company Herr Foods. While the firm does not report any federal lobbying, its CEO, J.M. Herr, has served as board chairman of the Snack Food Association, which opposed the guidelines.

Pitts is also the recipient of $13,000 in campaign contributions from Cargill Inc. Though based in Minnesota, the agricultural giant operates a chocolate operation in Lititz, Pennsylvania, which is in his district.

The Sunlight Foundation obtained the letters from the two groups of lawmakers opposed to to several agencies charged with drafting the voluntary guidelines from a FOIA request to the Food and Drug Administration. Press reports from last summer mention other letters sent by lawmakers on the topic, and FOIA requests to other agencies charged with drafting the guidelines are still pending.

We analyzed campaign contributions from the food processing & sales, food/beverage, and TV/movies/music industries to signers of the letters using transparencydata.com, compiled from data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which contains records through June 30, 2011, documenting contributions from companies or organizations that had formally reported lobbying on the food marketing guidelines.

Signers of the two letters that Sunlight obtained, along with campaign conribution career totals from major interests that have formally reported lobbying on the food marketing guidelines. Lawmakers got additional contributions from other donors with a stake in the outcome that did not report lobbying on the issue.

Senators:

  • Ben Nelson, D-Neb.: $218,950
  • James Risch, R-Idaho: $15,000
  • James Inhofe, R-Okla.: $91,325
  • Jerry Moran, R-Kansas: $137,942
  • John Barrasso, R-Wyo.: $52,000
  • John Boozman, R-Ark.: $46,660
  • John Thune, R-S.D.: $195,800
  • Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.: $128,502
  • Mike Johanns, R-Neb.: $101,597
  • Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.: $95,120
  • Mike Crapo, R-Idaho: $141,883
  • Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: $384.942
  • Pat Roberts, R-Kansas: $230,187
  • Richard Lugar, R-Ind.: $283,224
  • Ron Johnson, R-Wisc.: $25,900
  • Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.: $276,282
  • Scott Brown, R-Mass.: $26,500
  • Thad Cochran, R-Miss.: $123,867
  • Roy Blunt, R-Mo, $432,597

Pennsylvania Representatives (all are Republicans except for Altmire, Critz and Holden):

  • Bill Shuster: $36,750
  • Charlie Dent: $73,500
  • Glenn Thompson: $7,500
  • Jason Altmire: $44,750
  • Jim Gerlach: $90,800
  • Joe Pitts: $87,201
  • Louis Barletta: $7,500
  • Mark Critz: $6,500
  • Michael Fitzpatrick: $44,400
  • Mike Kelly: $1,000
  • Patrick Meehan: $35,814
  • Tim Holden: $41,500
  • Tim Murphy: $68,050
  • Todd Platts: $0
  • Tom Marino: $1,500

Rep. Pitts IWG Letter

 

Links to raw data used for these posts:

House letter

Senate letter