The Daily Orange (Syracuse University)
April 20, 2011
By Rachael Barillari
To Megan Luce, the cycle of the U.S. food industry only supports corporate agriculture and leaves the local farmer out.
"The way our food system is set up right now, it is going to crash and burn," said Luce, the regional field organizer for Democracy Matters, a national nonprofit organization that advocates removing private money in politics.
Luce spoke Tuesday in Room 107 in the Hall of Languages. Her presentation, "Food, Politics and Money," was aimed at creating awareness of the food industry's problems and how citizens can make a change.
Luce described a food industry cycle in which small farmers complain they are losing land and subsidies to large food corporations because those corporations provide funds to political campaigns. As the corporate side of agriculture continues to donate money to legislators, the government is giving the subsidies to the big-business farms, she said.
"This is not economically sustainable," Luce said.
From 2009 to 2010, Congress received $2,073,550 from American Crystal Sugar, $199,301 from Tyson Food and $397,538 from Monsanto, a seed production company that also spent $6.5 million on lobbying, Luce said.
After receiving these massive sums from corporate agriculture businesses, Congress gave $6 billion to the corn ethanol industry with the extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, Luce said. Between 1995 and 2006, Congress gave the major agricultural companies $56 billion in corn subsidies and $2.2 billion to producers of high fructose corn syrup, Luce said.
"None of this is a secret; it has to be open to the public by law," Luce said, adding the money could go to better use, such as to student loans and health care.
Luce said legislators now spend 50 to 60 percent of their time campaigning and very little time actually legislating or spending time with everyday constituents. As campaign prices rise every year, so does the amount of time candidates must spend with corporate businesses to raise campaign funds, Luce said.
"Slowly, everyday citizens are being closed out of the system," Luce said.
The solution to this is changing who citizens put into office by implementing public funding, a voluntary system that allows candidates to use funds provided by public grants to support their campaigns, she said. With this system, candidates spend more time with constituents and less time raising money with big business, Luce said.
Public funding is an option in a number of states where it is extremely popular, Luce said. In Arizona, Connecticut and Maine, 80 to 85 percent of candidates use the public funding option, she said.
A proposed bill in Congress, called the Fair Elections Now Act, would also give candidates who use public funding a 20 percent discount on broadcasting advertisements, and would allow any donation of less than $100 by constituents to be matched by the government 5-to-1, Luce said. The government would match a $100 donation as $500, for example.
"Democracy Matters wants to get the money out of politics and people back in," Luce said.
Eddie McLaughlin, a senior television, radio and film major, said although he was aware of the influence lobbyists and corporations have on campaign contributions, he did not know the specifics of how these groups influence what he ends up eating.
McLaughlin, also an officer in the Syracuse chapter of Democracy Matters, said the campus group has started a petition to get the public funding option for New York.