by David Muraskin, Attorney, Public Justice | September 17, 2018
Editor’s note: The following commentary is in response to “HSUS, R-CALF, OCM: Guilt by Association?”, a commentary by Kate Miller, published by Drovers. The opinions in the commentary below are those of David Muraskin.
The Drovers piece written by Kate Miller—that attacks me, my organization Public Justice, our client, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, and another group, the Organization of Competitive Markets—is the latest piece of a desperate, coordinated smear campaign undertaken by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Indeed, Ms. Miller’s piece bears a striking resemblance to a piece penned last year by Kendal Frazier, NCBA’s CEO, that we already refuted. It also sounds a lot like this Larry Stromprud op-ed we’ve seen pop-up in a number of local newspapers. NCBA knows its history of using Beef Checkoff money for its own ends and to harm the independent American rancher is indefensible, so it looks to distract and point fingers, and does so by getting others to act as its stand in.
Ms. Miller’s statement isn’t most notable for the fact that it is in service of a corporate shill, however, but that it chooses to repeat NCBA’s lies.
Public Justice and R-CALF have consistently been attacked for filing a First Amendment challenge to the Beef Checkoff program. NCBA and those repeating its talking points have claimed this suit seeks the “demise” of the “American cattle industry.”
On its face, this claim is a head scratcher. If the program is unconstitutional why should it be allowed to continue? Ms. Miller proclaims she works for Stand Up Republic, a group founded by Evan McMullin, which states that its “principles” include “Freedom of speech is a foundational human right and essential to democracy.” Apparently that’s only true when they like the results.
More importantly, our First Amendment suit wouldn’t take a dime out of the checkoff program, rather it just gives producers choice—hard to see how producer choice will lead to the demise of anything. Right now, state beef councils are automatically allowed to take half the checkoff money collected in their state. Because the government has admitted those state councils can be entirely private and unaccountable, our suit says that they should only be allowed to keep the checkoff money if producers consent. If not, the money should go to the Beef Board and Beef Committee who are answerable to the government. Same amount of money goes in; Public Justice and R-CALF just believe that producers shouldn’t be forced to fund a private group if they don’t want to. To date, three courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals have agreed with us.
How could such a logical request stir such ire? Because it will affect NCBA’s bottom line. NCBA runs the Federation of State Beef Councils, which gets money from the councils. Thus, if producers give the councils less, less money ends up under NCBA’s control.
Moreover, the goal in giving producers choice is to provide them leverage. If they don’t like how the state council is spending their money, they can move it. Historically, checkoff money has been used to promote the packers and their allies. For instance, in Montana, the state council used checkoff money to fund ads for the fast food chain Wendy’s, which doesn’t commit to sourcing its beef from the U.S., let alone Montana. If producers have leverage, the corporations that fund NCBA won’t be able to get away with this mismanagement to the same extent.
Because all of the above is so reasonable, NCBA, Ms. Miller and others rely on a second lie in the hopes of discrediting our statements: That I and Public Justice are just a front for the Humane Society of the United States. While we have said this before, let me be as absolutely clear once again, neither I nor Public Justice have ever received a cent from HSUS.
Pubic Justice and its Food Project for which I work is an independent non-profit organization with our own values that we clearly articulate on our website. Those values are anchored in a commitment to farmers, ranchers, rural communities, workers, and consumers to help them fight the corporate consolidation and abuse in the animal agricultural industry. We do this by seeking to promote transparency, open markets, and forcing industry to be accountable for the harms it causes to people and property. I’m happy to debate what we do, I’m not willing to be made out to be a puppet or have our work misrepresented.
NCBA has claimed our efforts for fairness have “divided neighbors in a manner that undermines the best interests of the entire beef community.” I could think of no better description of their misleading efforts to support the current unconstitutional checkoff system. Their “I’m rubber and you’re glue” argument cannot stand.
With every one of our victories in court, R-CALF and Public Justice move the checkoff closer in line with ranchers’ First Amendment rights, which will ensure the checkoff speaks for them and does not just fund a corporate lobbying group.
Whatever NCBA and its spokespeople try to next, it will reek of even more desperation.