Billings, MT | What would you expect to happen with any government program that taxes citizens based on what they sell, turns large sums of the money to a powerful lobbying group, and then provides minimal supervision as to how the money is spent?
Most of us would expect two things: First we’d expect corruption, or at the very least improper spending of the taxes. And second, we’d expect the recipients of those large sums of money to fight to keep the free money coming.
Well, those of us that predicted such outcomes are not to be disappointed.
Case in point: The government designed such a program when it passed the beef checkoff program. It taxes every American cattle rancher $1 for every head of cattle sold. It then awards tens of millions of those taxes to the largest lobbying group representing beef packers and cattle producers. And then it provides only minimal supervision over how the money is spent.
And just as our crystal ball predicted, corruption and misspending ensued. The big one was when the powerful lobbying group was found to have misspent over $200,000 of cattle-producer dollars.
And then came the multimillion-dollar corruption. It was reported that for a period of seven years, an employee of the group charged with administering the beef checkoff program in Oklahoma managed to stay hidden under the radar while embezzling over 2.5 million dollars. Just think of the level of supervision that checkoff program was subjected to for it to have taken that long to discover such a huge loss.
Most everyone values fairness and honesty and when something other than those two virtues raises its head, well it’s time to make some changes.
And several champions in Congress are doing just that to exact needed changes to the beef checkoff program that Congress hasn’t hardly changed for over three decades, even after misspending and corruption became common knowledge.
It’s a bipartisan bill called the OFF Act, which stands for Opportunities and Fairness in Farming Act, and it was introduced by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in the Senate, and Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Dina Titus (D-NV) in the House.
The OFF Act will help prevent future misuses of beef checkoff dollars by creating more accountability and transparency in the government-run program. And it will prohibit any group that lobbies for the cattle or beef industries from receiving any checkoff dollars.
As a group that has been lobbying for the cattle industry for over two decades, we at R-CALF USA believe strongly that the OFF Act is necessary to ensure that America’s cattle ranchers are treated honestly and fairly through the proper spending of their mandatory taxes.
And what constitutes proper spending of the mandatory beef checkoff taxes? Well, its spending for beef promotion and research in an efficient and transparent manner, meaning without first redirecting those moneys through a lobbying group.
Now you would think that the millions of dollars in mandatory beef checkoff taxes collected each year from America’s cattle farmers and ranchers would have helped to strengthen the United States cattle industry. But those dollars didn’t. Instead for decades the U.S. cattle industry has been marked by declining numbers of cattle farms and ranches, declining numbers of cattle in the U.S. cattle herd, declining numbers of family-sized cattle feedlots, and declining numbers of local and regional beef packers. And all this adds up to putting America’s food security at risk.
But wait, I forgot to mention our second prediction certain to occur under the government’s beef checkoff program that awards tens of millions of dollars to a powerful lobbying group and then provides little supervision. That second prediction is that the lobbying groups who have become accustomed to receiving large sums of producer dollars each year will fight to keep the free money coming.
Well, you don’t have to keep your ear too close to the ground to hear the fighting now underway, and much of the arguments are aimed not at the merits of the OFF Act; but rather, they’re directed at the individual Senators and Representatives who are trying to impart fairness and honesty in the checkoff program to help America’s cattle farmers and ranchers, and towards other OFF Act supporters.
Now this should be a pretty good clue as to the importance of enacting the OFF Act. When the supporters of the OFF Act are those who want their money spent properly while the opponents of the Act are those who want to keep the free money coming, it’s a sign that the OFF Act should be enacted as soon as possible.
We hope you’ll pick up your phones and tell your congressional members to include the OFF Act in the 2023 Farm Bill.
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R-CALF USA’s weekly opinion/commentary educates and informs both consumers and producers about timely issues important to the U.S. cattle industry and rural America.
R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America) is the largest producer-only trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516 for more information.