Five charts on food industry influence

by and

With the House set to battle First Lady Michelle Obama over school lunch nutrition regulations, as Peter Olsen-Phillips reports today, it’s a good time to put big ag influence in context.

The multi-billion dollar food industry is one of the most well connected in Washington. These interests spend tens of millions on campaign contributions every election cycle, concentrating dollars on the members that serve on the agriculture committees, who make the decisions on the nation’s food policy. They also employ some of the biggest name lobbyists and attorneys in town to influence not just legislation, but the regulatory process as well.

In recent years alone, the industry has worked with Congress to torpedo voluntary guidelines for marketing food to children. It has lobbied to slow down, weaken, and introduce exemptions into the newly approved food safety law meant to reduce food borne illnesses. Farm groups have pushed to keep recipients of crop subsidies secret. The potato lobby has been recruiting senators to keep white potatoes part of the federal WIC program that provides food for low income women and families, despite their lack of nutritional value.

See Sunlight’s reporting on:

  • How lobbyists are  working to weaken implementation of the a major new food safety law;
  • How special interests get their way in the farm bill;
  • How the food industry teamed up with the media industry to scuttle voluntary guidelines on marketing food to children.

One.  Overall, the food industry has funded candidates and committees with nearly $849 million in campaign contributions since 1989. This total includes contributions to both state and federal recipients. The peak years were 2011-2012, the most recent presidential election cycle, with more than $167 million contributed. Not far behind was the previous election cycle, 2009-2010, with $145.2 million. That was when Congress was debating a major revamping of the food safety system, legislation that would become the Food Safety and Modernization Act, signed by President Barack Obama in January 2011.

Two.  The food industry favors Republicans over Democrats. Over the years, federal Republican candidates and committees have benefited from $184.8 million in contributions, while Democrats have gotten $108.6 million.

Three. The food industry has reported spending a total of $1.5 billion since 1997 on federal lobbying. The peak cycle to date was 2009-2010, with $297 million, as Congress was debating food safety legislation.

Four.  Since 1997, 2,293 registered federal lobbyists have reported working on food industry issues. Again, the high point was in 2009-2010, corresponding with Congressional debate over the food safety law. Those two years, 1,021 lobbyists were on record lobbying on food industry issues.

Five.  These lobbyists are also the source of campaign dollars themselves. Some of these lobbyists work directly for the food industry. Others work for big-name lobbying firms, such as Patton Boggs and Williams & Jensen, which represent food industries as clients.  Overall, registered federal lobbyists are the source of $19.8 million in campaign contributions to state and federal candidates and committees. Reversing the trend by the food industry overall, most of these lobbyist contributions have benefited Democrats over Republicans: $11.4 million v. $8.3 million.

Note: All data come from Influence Explorer, powered by and “Food Industry,” in this analysis refers to industries coded by as agribusiness, with the exception of tobacco and forestry, plus the restaurant and alcohol industries.