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March 1997 – State Politicians Swimming in Hog Money

March 25, 1997


On the eve of a showdown vote in the General Assembly over regulating the hog industry, a new study shows that 80 percent of the state legislators received contributions from pro-swine interests during their 1996 election campaigns.

At least ten state legislators sent back contributions from the N.C. Pork Producers, and public concern about the environmental hazards of large-scale hog operations remains strong. But pork industry proponents are not about to give up, having spent over $1 million in the past two years to influence public opinion, policy debates, and the outcome of the 1996 election.

Governor Jim Hunt supported regulatory reforms last year but now reportedly favors only more study of swine-related problems. His reelection campaign received $119,000 from pork processors and pork lobbyists, hog farmers, allied industry executives, and three agribusiness political action committees.

Altogether, more than $420,000 flowed from these sources to candidates running in 1996 for the state legislature, governor, and Council of State, according to an analysis of election reports by Democracy South, a Chapel Hill-based research and public education organization that advocates comprehensive campaign finance reforms.

“Hog money spread throughout the legislature is another way this industry is polluting our state’s quality of life and our democratic freedoms,” said Bob Hall, research director for Democracy South. “The influence and access this money buys — to the Governor’s office, to both parties, to legislative leaders — poisons the environment for discussing meaningful regulation of the hog industry. It also demonstrates why major campaign finance reform is needed to change the dependence of politicians on wealthy donors.”

Other findings in the study:

** Four high-powered lobbyists hired by pork interests personally donated $62,000 to state legislative candidates and gave $17,200 to Gov. Hunt. The four men — Zeb Alley, Don Beason, Roger Bone, and John Bode — work for Farmers For Fairness and the N.C. Pork Producers Association, among other clients, and are rated among the state’s most effective lobbyists.

** The family of Wendell Murphy the nation’s largest swine grower, along with two Murphy Farms executives, donated a total of $15,600 to state legislative candidates and $28,550 to Governor Hunt. As a state Senator, Murphy helped pass a number of laws favorable to the hog industry, including the restriction on county zoning now under fire in the legislature.

**The political action committees of the N.C. Pork Producers Association, N.C. Farm Bureau, and NC. Poultry Federation donated a total of $83,200 to state legislative candidates, with 87 percent of that amount going to winners.

** 136 of the 170 General Assembly candidates who won election in 1996 received a total of $179,600 from pork-related interests: 93 of the 120 House members and 43 of the 50 Senate members. (Clark Plexico resigned after winning reelection to the Senate; he is considered “elected” in these totals.)

** The top recipient of money from swine interests was Governor Hunt with $1 19,025. By contrast, his Republican rivals received only $21,554 ($15,073 to Vinroot and $6,481 to Robin Hayes). Lt. Governor Dennis Wicker was the second largest recipient with $25,605.

* * The top 5 legislative recipients of pro-pork money are Senate Agriculture Chair Charlie Albertson, Senate chief Marc Basnight, Senate Rules Chair Tony Rand, House Speaker Harold Brubaker, and House Majority Leader Leo Daughtry. Number 6 is House Rules Chair Richard Morgan, whose recent conversion to the need for hog industry regulation followed the news that two mega-farms wanted to locate in his tourist-dependent district.

** In addition to their political contributions, the pork industry and its allies spent $170.000 in compensation to lobbyists during the 1995 and 1996 legislative sessions. More than $30,000 was listed in other expenses — but much of the true cost of lobbying is not disclosed. Last year, the N.C. Pork Producers announced a $500,000 campaign to improve its image, with media ads promoting its “Pork Proud” philosophy.

** Adding the $400,000 in campaign donations, plus the $200,000 in direct lobbying expenses, plus the $500,000 in public relations yields a total expenditure of $1.1 million by the pork industry and its allies.

Democracy South is a non-partisan research and education organization that began as a project of the Institute for Southern Studies. It is affiliated with the N.C. Alliance for Democracy, a statewide coalition advocating full and timely campaign finance disclosure, stronger enforcement of election laws, and public financing for state elections.

For this study, Democracy South supplemented data entry from the N.C. Board of Election with a review of paper reports for all winning legislative candidates and the reports for gubernatorial candidates. Some data from the January 1997 reports of defeated candidates is not included here, which will push the final totals even higher. In addition, donations of $100 or less are routinely left out of these figures even though, as in the case of the Wendell Murphy family, several related donors may give $100 donations on the same day to the same candidate for a handsome (and undisclosed) total.

A complete portrait of the money flow from pork interests would also include their donations to political party committees and PACs controlled by legislative leaders. These committees funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates in 1996, but the reports have not yet been processed by the state Board of Election. For the period 1993 through 1995, the four pork lobbyists (Alley/Bone/Beason/ Bode), Farm Bureau PAC and Pork Producers PAC donated about $43,000 to these committees.