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November 1999 – Hog Money Influence in the 1999 General Assembly

November 22, 1999
Contact: Bob Hall 489-1931

Hog Money Influence in the 1999 General Assembly

An analysis of campaign finance reports shows that the hog industry and its allies dramatically increased their investment in North Carolina politics in the 1998 election.

The pay-off on that investment came in two forms, says the N.C. Public Interest Research Group (contact at 919-933-5889). First, the industry benefited from the rise to power of hog-friendly leaders in the legislature, reversing the hostile treatment it received under former Rules Chair Richard Morgan and House Speaker Harold Brubaker. But, second, the people of eastern North Carolina suffered the consequences of weak environmental regulations, made all the more terrible by Hurricane Floyd.

Indeed, the extent of pig-pollution damage following Floyd begs these questions: How has the hog industry’s political money and muscle protected it from vigorous regulation? Why did the 1999 General Assembly do so little to protect the communities impacted by hog waste? Why did the momentum for increased regulation of the industry, largely driven inside the legislature by GOP House members, come to a halt when Democrats took control of the House after the 1998 election?

A variety of proposals, including phasing out the open-pit cesspools and phasing in of integrator liability, went nowhere in 1999. The moratorium on new hog factory-farm construction was extended, but the industry did not seriously oppose that proposal since it has already built to over-capacity in the state. The industry won the big fights and the people of eastern North Carolina lost.

For comment from eastern North Carolinians on hog money, pig poop, legislative politics, and Floyd, contact Rick Dove (Neuse River Keeper, 252-447-8999 or 637-7972), Gary Grant (Concerned Citizens of Tillery, 252-826-3244), Gale Lewis (Alliance for Responsible Swine Industry, 910-259-3279 or 395-8533) and Tom Mattison (New River Keeper, 910-353-3352 ).

For details on the political money, contact Bob Hall at Democracy South at 919-489-1931. Here’s a summary of the influence of hog-related money on the 1998 election and 1999 legislature:

•  More than three fourths of the members of the 1999 General Assembly got contributions from donors tied to the hog and poultry industry in their 1998 campaigns. Animal factory PACs and contributors dumped at least $280,000* into the 1998 elections through direct political donations, an increase of 70 percent over the $165,000 donated by these donors to 1996 legislative candidates.

•  The North Carolina Pork Council PAC stepped up its activity during the 1998 election cycle, spending $90,500 in 1997-98, an increase of 28 percent over the 1996 election. Two dozen state legislative candidates got at least $1,000 each. The Pork PAC gave the House Democratic caucus committee, headed by minority leader and chief fundraiser Jim Black, a total of $5,000 – and gave nothing to the Republican caucus. The Democratic Party received a separate Pork PAC contribution of $15,000; the Republican Party got nothing.

•  Hog industry consultants testified at a Board of Elections hearing that, during the 1998 election, the industry targeted key Republicans, namely then House Rules Chair Richard Morgan and three House Republican incumbents who won in 1996 by slim margins and who supported stiffer regulations: Reps. Cindy Watson, Bobby Ray Hall, and Sandy Hardy. All three (Watson, Hall and Hardy) became the targets for push polling and negative advertising sponsored by Farmers for Fairness, the hog lobby run by Wendell Murphy and a handful of top pork producers. All three lost in 1998 – a large enough defeat to put the Democrats back in the majority in the state House.

•  In the 12 months ending in May 1998, Farmers for Fairness spent $2.9 million on media advertising, polling, and lobbying – demonstrating its willingness to invest heavily in its political mission and its ability to target legislators it considered unfriendly. In the months leading up to the May primary, Farmers for Fairness spent $10,000 a week on media buys against Cindy Watson. When asked if such spending might jeopardize the Republican majority in the House, Carter Wrenn, the Farmers for Fairness political consultant and longtime Republican strategist, told the Board of Elections that he personally favored the election of conservatives, not Republicans, and would “prefer that she [Cindy Watson] be replaced by a conservative,” even if that meant a Democrat winning the general election (which is what happened).

•  Once the Democrats regained control of the House, newly installed Speaker Jim Black appointed the House incumbent who received the most hog money into the dual role as co-chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee and vice-chair of the House Agriculture Committee. This member, Nurham Warrick of Sampson County, had already established a record as a staunch ally of the hog industry and effective fundraiser. His biggest backers, the Herring family of Newton Grove, own Hog Slat Inc. Altogether, Warrick received at least $22,500 from hog-related donors, or 35% of the $64,800 he raised in 1997-98 from PACs and individuals (i.e., not counting money he loaned his campaign or got from party committees).

•  The hog industry also gave generously to Rep. Phil Baddour of Goldsboro, the House Democrats’ new Majority Leader. Baddour is progressive on many issues and interested in finding workable compromises, but he maintains good relations with hometown friends in the hog industry, including the Maxwell family of Goldsboro Milling. Although major contributors to Republican causes and candidates, Louis and Gordon Maxwells gave Baddour $1,500; Nick Weaver, president of Farmers for Fairness, and his wife Charlotte Maxwell added $400; and the Pork PAC gave $1,000

•  In addition to Warrick, the House Environment Committee was stacked with pro-agribusiness lawmakers and legislators who received hefty contributions from hog interests. In fact, 11 of the 27 committee members also sit on the House Agriculture Committee, including poultry farmers John Brown and Frank Mitchell, both Republicans, and Democrats Leslie Cox (who defeated Bobby Ray Hall, with the help of $2,000 from the Pork PAC) and Russell Tucker (who emerged the final winner in Cindy Watson’s district, with the help of over $14,000 in direct hog-related contributions).

•  On the Senate side, Charlie Albertson of Duplin County was once again the leading recipient among state Senators of hog and poultry money – and was once again appointed chair of the combined Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. In the 1998 cycle, Albertson got at least $17,835 from donors tied to the hog/poultry industry, or 25% of the $72,600 he raised from PACs and individuals.

* Because the state Board of Election lacks the resources to process campaign finance reports in a timely manner, it is still extremely difficult to identify all the money given by hog-related interests to North Carolina candidates and party committees. The 1998 totals in this memo are based on a database of contributions developed by Democracy South. Totals for “hog-related contributions” include direct contributions from the Pork PAC, Poultry Federation PAC, Farm Bureau PAC and individuals tied to the hog and/or poultry industry. Farmers not involved in poultry or pigs are not included.