Monsanto — Appointing, Legislating, and Lobbying Its Way to the Top
Interest groups are defined as an “organized group of people that makes policy-related appeals” and they can have a profound effect on our government and society (Ginsberg, Lowi, and Weir 419). These groups represent their interests in the political arena in a variety of ways; they can get government officials appointed to government positions, lobby government officials, and fund media to advertise their message to mobilize public opinion and sway voters.
Businesses interest groups in particular utilize these strategies, because there is an economic incentive in passing favorable laws and conveying a good image to government and the public. One business interest currently benefiting from their interaction with the Obama administration is Monsanto. Monsanto is a billion dollar company responsible for genetically modified seeds, the chemical Roundup and its associated Roundup ready crops, the toxic chemical substance Agent Orange, bovine growth hormones (rBGH), and the synthetic sugar substitute known as aspartame—to name a few.
As a business interest group, it has been a terrific success in using government to push its agenda, much to the dismay of environmental activists, scientists, and concerned citizens who want their government to regulate businesses and protect the public. This paper will examine how business interest groups like Monsanto have been able to further their agenda under the Obama administration through the appointment of employees to federal positions, lobbying, and use of media to mobilize public opinion. ) Appointment to Federal positions The appointment of employees in business to positions in government is a common occurrence today and is often referred to as “The Revolving Door”. This is the shuffling in and out of government and private sector jobs, and it is bad because it leaves these government officials with biases and the high chance of being favorable to their former employer. In the Obama administration, there are currently many revolvers from private industry (“Revolving Door”).
One current revolver from Monsanto who is now making policy decisions regarding our food safety is Michael Taylor. Michael Taylor was named deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration in January 2010 and is a former Vice President of Monsanto’s Public Policy(“Meet Michael R. Taylor, J. D. , Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine”). This obviously creates a bias when making decisions about policies regarding products manufactured by Monsanto, such as genetically modified foods or the bovine growth hormones used in milk.
When Monsanto employees like Michael Taylor get into these agencies, they are usually favorable to their former employer Monsanto when making decisions. They also ensure direct access for lobbyists to the agencies they are in control of; “many of Washington’s top lobbyists have close ties to important members of congress or were themselves important political figures, thus virtually guaranteeing that clients will have direct access to government officials” (Ginsberg, Lowi, and Weir 414).
Taylor is a former lobbyist and current government official who now gives Monsanto full access into the decision making of many of American’s decisions about food. Unfortunately, he is just one in a litany of government officials who have vested interests in the private sector while still being allowed to make decisions affecting the health and safety of the American public. By getting employees into federal positions, businesses increase their chances of creating a strong iron triangle system that supports their interest group.
The iron triangle is a “stable, cooperative relationship that often develops among a congressional committee, an administrative agency, and one or more supportive interest groups” (Ginsberg, Lowi, and Weir 418). This iron triangle system is powerful in creating favorable legislation and regulation for Monsanto; their good working relationship with legislative committees and executive agencies allows them to support their agenda and further their business by directly shaping policy outcomes. 2) Lobbying members of congress
Lobbying is a critical part of how interest groups represent their agenda in government and seek passage of favorable legislation. A lobbyist’s goal is to influence policy in a certain direction by “mobilizing individual citizens to contact legislators (grassroots lobbying), testifying at hearings, submitting written comments to an agency or committee, press releases, and other activities” (Hasen 217). Lobbyists also take full of advantage of their direct access and “personal contact with legislators and taff members” to influence policy decisions (Hasen 217). Monsanto is incredibly adept in all these areas, and was the top lobbying client in the agribusiness sector with $8,831,120 spent in 2008 and $5,970,000 in expenditures in 2012 (“Annual Lobbying on Agricultural Services”). Business interest groups often lobby congress and the executive branch to promote their agendas and enact favorable laws and regulations. They do this by gaining direct access to members of Congress and federal agencies and making their interests heard.
This is even encouraged by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) that “requires most federal agencies to provide notice and an opportunity for comment before implementing proposed new rules and legislation” (Ginsberg, Lowi, and Weir 434). This allows businesses like Monsanto to meet with agencies like the USDA, FDA, and EPA to weigh in on issues that affect them, such as the merits and safety of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), discouraging labeling of GMOS’s, or enforcement rules on chemicals and pesticides.
Research shows that business interest groups have gained legislative success through directly influencing the bureaucracy. According to research, the “significant trait in interest group influence is the privileged, institutionalized integration of some groups into public decision making” (Binderkrantz 177-78). Because of Monsanto’s high level of activity with government agencies and their ability to get access and lobby officials directly, their opinion is often integrated into public policy.
Another way Monsanto lobbyists gain influence is through the information they have to offer the government. Research says “the most important factor governing the influence of a group was the ability of a group to provide lawmakers with both technical and political information” (Smith 235). Monsanto provides busy government officials with information about the issues that conveys authority and touts research backing, making policy decisions easier for a government official who may know nothing about the subject otherwise.
In fact, many politicians say lobbyists are an essential part of government; in response to a 1978 bill expanding lobbying disclosures, Senators Edward Kennedy, Dick Clark, and Robert Stafford issued the statement that “Government without lobbying could not function. The flow of information to Congress and to every other federal agency is a vital part of our democratic system” (Ginsberg, Lowi, and Weir 431). This quote exemplifies how politicians rely on lobbyists as an essential source of information regarding policy issues.
Lobbyist’s role as conduits of this information to government is crucial because they are in complete control of how information is presented—and thus how their agenda is received. One recent piece of legislation that Monsanto benefited from because of the information their ability to directly access lawmakers was House Resolution 933, an emergency spending bill passed to fund government operations through September and avert a government shutdown. The bill, signed by President Obama on March 26th 20013, will continue to protect this multi-billion dollar corporation from legal ramifications of the safety of its products.
The budget bill, now dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act”, inserted an unrelated provision that grants Monsanto against legal injunction for the next year and the ability to continue planting seeds and harvesting crops even if there are problems found with genetically modified organisms. Because they were trying to rush this bill through to avoid government shutdown, these shady provisions were able to sneak through. The Missouri Senator who added in the bill, Roy Blunt, admits he worked with Monsanto in creating the details of this legislature (“New Law Spurs Controversy, Debate Over Genetically Modified Crops”).
This piece of protective legislation shows how corporations can use their direct access to government officials to alter policy changes. Because of this advantage of access and authority, business interest groups like Monsanto are extremely successful in transforming their agenda into public policy. Overall, research does indicate that there is a bias towards businesses. When comparing comments from business to nonbusiness commenters in federal agency hearings, there was a clear winner in policy outcomes.
Agencies are more likely to be persuaded by lobbyists for business interests because of “the number of comments coming from business interests” and the fact that the “comments from business-related interests provide more information and signal a greater level of commenter expertise, causing agencies to respond to the requests made…” (Webb 128). This research shows business interest groups have the advantage both in the amount of input, and the sense of credibility the information has coming from a large industry.
Monsanto educates these government officials through their company’s own agenda and thus often succeeds in getting the policies it wants passed. This bias towards businesses undercuts the effectiveness of pluralism. Pluralism is the theory that all interests are and should be free to compete for influence in the government, with the outcome of this competition being compromise and moderation. The idea is that people will belong to interest groups that affect them and let their voices be heard by government, so that their needs can be met.
Unfortunately, business interest groups often have a much greater voice than other interest groups through their existing ties to government via federal appointments and because of their financial power to fund lobbyists. Because they have a greater presence, the corporation’s needs are met while the needs of the public become secondary. While “interest group pluralism presumes that public policy outcomes are determined principally through a contest for influence among organized pressure groups”, we can see that it isn’t a very fair contest when Monsanto’s lobbyists have millions more dollars to spend. Stephenson and Jackson 7) It is clear that there is a negative implication of lobbying when legislation begins to favor elite interests rather than the public good. Because business interest groups are able to influence government in a disproportionately higher rate than citizens, “legislative outputs no longer reflect the outcome of reasoned debate, promoting the common good, or the preferences of the median voters. Instead, public policy reflects the preferences of lobbyists’ clients” (Hasen 219). 4. Mobilizing Public Opinion Through Media Monsanto, like other interest groups, often uses media to further its cause.
It can be used to rally support for the products it makes or it can be used to oppose policies that could affect the company negatively. Because it is a multi-billion dollar company, it is able to spend an inordinate amount to advertise their agenda and gain public favor more easily than companies that are not as well off financially. Research shows the effectiveness of an interest group’s use of media is correlated to its money and size: “the best predictor of an interest group’s ability to use the mass media as a political tool is the level of organizational resources (money, members, staff, etc. it enjoys” (Thrall 417). This shows that the advertising messages the public receives is determined by who has the most money to market themselves, and companies like Monsanto are obviously a dominant influence due to their resources. A recent example of Monsanto’s use of the media to further its agenda was the attempt at labeling genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) that failed because of Monsanto’s supreme ability to mobilize public opinion.
The California Proposition 37 added to the ballot in 2012 was an initiative to label foods that contain genetically modified organisms. Even with mounting concerns about public safety, Monsanto was able to control this issue through media and advertising and ensure that California voters would not let the proposition pass. They were successful because large companies were able to out fund non-profits and other groups who donated a fraction of Monsanto’s budget.
Because of their resources and ability to advertise, Monsanto and other agribusinesses were able to easily sway voters with their carefully crafted ad campaigns. By paying to run millions of dollars on ads that threatened rising food costs if food labeling was required, they swayed many Americans worried about tough economic times. Their use of the media convinced citizens that labeling genetically modified foods was against their self-interests financially, and this threat prevented many people from voting the proposition through.
It was a big comment on the state of consumer affairs in the country that a simple labeling law could not be passed; though the administration could follow many other countries leads and mandate GMO labeling, Monsanto is left deciding the fate of food with its money, power, and influence. 4) Conclusion: reaffirms your thesis statement, discusses the issues, and reaches a final judgment: your conclusion based on your research and your reasoning. Business interest groups are a powerful force in the decision making process of our country and will continue to exert force over policy as long as they have resources and access.
To make their interests known and accepted, they utilize the attainment of federal positions, lobbying, litigation, and funding of media. To get their agenda expressed through the government, they use federal appointments in a process called the “Revolving Door”. This leads to biased decision making throughout branches of the government that can negatively affect policy outcomes for the public. If this continues, citizens will become alienated and distrusting of the federal government which seems to be only serving the elite interests of corporations.
Lobbying is another way that citizens are rightly beginning to lose trust in the system. While in theory all interest groups are supposed to be able to lobby the government, only those interests with large amounts of money, access, and connections will have a good chance at having their interests be heard. Though there are regulations on how much lobbyists can spend and laws requiring them to register, it is still clear that lobbyists for billion dollar corporations are experiencing a higher level of success than public interest groups with little funding.
This shows that in government, those with the most money and access will prevail. Unfortunately when “businesses and trade associations make up more than half of the Washington lobbying community”, it is unlikely citizens will fare as well as corporations (Baumgartner 1194). This has major implications when research shows that “some special interest lobbies frequently influence legislation and regulation in ways that…are detrimental to the public good” (Baker 53). Regulations made from information presented by lobbyists doesn’t serve the public good—it serves Monsanto’s.
The use of the media is another area in which Monsanto has dominated its competition. It was the highest contributor in advertising against Proposition 37, and the over seven million dollars poured into the cause was effective in squashing the issue of labeling genetically modified food. When a group like Monsanto is able to pour that amount of funds into mobilizing public opinion, they have complete control over the issue and how they want it to be seen and voted on by the American public.
With enough money they were able to assuage concerns over the safety of genetically modified foods and managed to convince people it would actually go against their own self interests in terms of cost. The elite team of advertisers Monsanto has the funds to hire enables them to spin their issues in any way they need to in order to gain both governmental and public support for their agenda. By gaining support they can ensure individuals vote to Monsanto’s benefit and don’t actively oppose the company, leaving their profit motive as the single determiner of important public policy.