KENOSHA NEWS: Editorial: Transparency in agricultural checkoffs welcomed (2nd Wisconsin Editorial Board Endorsement of OFF Act


Editorial: Transparency in agricultural checkoffs welcomed

February 19, 2020

5 hrs ago

Apiece of legislation has brought together liberal Congressman Mark Pocan and conservative Congressman Matt Gaetz.

The same piece of legislation has brought together liberal U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and conservative U.S. Sen. Mike Lee.

The same piece of legislation has brought together the Animal Wellness Action and the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation.

That leads us to think it’s probably an idea whose time has come.

The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act aims for greater transparency in how the federal government spends $900 million a year on what are known to farmers as agricultural checkoffs.

Farmers producing about two dozen types of commodities, ranging from dairy products to Christmas trees, are mandated to pay a portion of their revenue into checkoff programs. The money is supposed to be used to promote their commodities, although critics say some of the programs misuse the funds by overpaying executives or using it to lobby against the interest of small farmers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“It’s not often that you have Matt Gaetz, Mark Pocan and Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi all on the same page — especially these days,” said Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action.

A 2017 Government Accountability Office report requested by Pelosi criticized the checkoff program and recommended it improve its transparency by posting key documents online.

Pocan is a liberal Democrat who represents Madison and is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Gaetz is a conservative who is often seen on cable TV enthusiastically defending President Donald Trump.

Irby said Gaetz is backing the bill because of his interest in animal welfare and government transparency. He attributed Pocan’s backing to his support of family farmers and animal welfare.

Charges of corruption and secrecy have been leveled at some of the checkoff programs.

Critics point to an attempt by the American Egg Board to use checkoff money in an attempt to kill sales of a vegan mayonnaise product, alleged illegal lobbying and the USDA’s failure to file on a timely basis required financial reports as examples of how checkoff money has been misused.

The Journal Sentinel last year reported that as many small dairy farms were closing, Thomas Gallagher, head of Dairy Management Inc. — a nonprofit funded with checkoff money — was paid more than $1 million three times from 2013 to 2017. Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack became the top-paid Dairy Management executive in 2018 when he was paid $999,421.

The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act would mandate that the checkoff programs be required to publish budgets and undergo audits.

All the best,

Marty Irby

Executive Director

Animal Wellness Action

611 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E. #136

Washington, D.C. 20003