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Saturday, October 27, 2012

The 2012 Presidential Candidates and Monsanto: Part #2 Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

Candidate Mitt Romney has a very long history with Monsanto and has shown a willingness to work with the agro-conglomerate if elected president. Throughout much of his business career, Romney was heavily involved with the internal operations of the Monsanto Corporation. During Romney’s private sector experience at Bain Capital, he worked for and had a significant amount of influence upon the activities of the Monsanto Corporation. In addition to the business connection between Romney and Monsanto, several officers of the Monsanto corporation have held private relationships with Romney and have contributed to his political aspirations.

Romney’s Business Connections with Monsanto

In 1977, Bain Capital—the company that Romney ran, and in which he made most of his money—was starting out as a corporate consulting firm; Monsanto was among the first major clients of Bain. The multi-million dollar relationship between Bain Capital and Monsanto lasted from 1977 to 1985 and had significant effects on both corporations. Bain Capital, and its officers, made large amounts of money through its relationship with Monsanto and gained a significant client with which to base its consulting practice upon. Monsanto was given business advice by Bain and the corporation’s recent successes in GMO produce are traceable back to the suggestions that Romney made to Monsanto administrators.

According to Dr. Earl Beaver, Monsanto’s Waste Director during much of the 1970s and 80s, Romney was one of the major proponents of Monsanto’s shift into the biotechnical and bioengineering industry. In response to the massive scandal surrounding Monsanto’s part in the creation of “Agent Orange” (a powerful chemical weapon that was used during the Vietnam

War), Romney suggested to Monsanto Administrators that they focus on businesses that had lower levels of controversy surrounding them then the creation of chemical weapons—this shift would reduce the negative press received by the company and would help improve the public perception of the company (thus helping them make more money). The creation of bioengineered organisms was a developing industry during the late 20th century and Monsanto—partly on Romney’s advice—began to invest in their GMO production divisions as a new industry.

Patrick Graham, a founding member of Bain Capital, said the following about Romney’s work with Monsanto: “The most important contribution Bain made to Monsanto was concluding that the biggest opportunity was to bring an entirely new value product, namely biotech and herbicides, to the whole farming industry in America, soybeans and stuff.”

If the officers who worked at Monsanto are to be believed, Romney had significant influence on the corporate decision-making for Monsanto and it is his advice that convinced the company’s leadership deciding to focus on GMO creation rather than simply pesticides. Romney saw a move into GMOs as a way to move away from the controversies of Agent Orange and DDT, thus improving the perception of the company.

While there are many ways that people could look at Romney’s history (those who dislike GMOs will blame him for helping create the largest GMO creator, while those who worked with Monsanto would likely thank him for the profitable business advice), there are two things that one can be reasonably certain about a Romney presidency and Monsanto:

  1. Romney suggested that Monsanto shift its industry to GMO creation, thus it is undeniable that he sees GMOs as a good investment; if he didn’t see GMO’s as a good way to make money he would never have suggested that Monsanto enter into GMO creation during his tenure as a consultant. Romney’s private sector support for GMOs will shade all of Romney’s policies in favor of GMOs and will make it very difficult to convince him to support any anti-GMO bills.
  2. Romney worked for Monsanto for years and has numerous contacts within the company. If Romney is elected, Monsanto will get unprecedented access to the president, if only due to the fact that Romney’s experience in agriculture was shaped by his work at Monsanto with Bain (his agriculture experience comes solely from Monsanto and not from working around other farming organizations). We see this access already, in the selection of several high-level Monsanto agents for advisory posts in the Romney campaign.

Monsanto Connections Within the Romney Campaign

Romney and his campaign have had significant contact with the Monsanto Corporation and have received support from Monsanto officers. While Romney has yet to hold a national office (his
governorship in MA didn’t expose him to lobbying by many agri-business groups), his campaign for president has shown high levels of cooperation with the agri-business industry as well as the corn lobby.

Arguably the most significant aspect of the Romney campaign’s involvement with Monsanto comes from his appointments to his “Agricultural Advisory” committee. This committee, which is tasked with advising Mitt Romney on all issues relating to agriculture and agri-business, is staffed by “experts” on the field. The experts who staff Romney’s advisory committee come directly from the agro-business industry and represent a huge level of cooperation between Romney and big agri-business.

Randy Russell, a top lobbyist for Monsanto Co., has been appointed to this committee and will likely remain on if Romney wins the election. Russell’s involvement in Romney’s agricultural advisory committee represents a direct line between the Romney campaign (and thus his presidency) and the Monsanto Corporation. The simple fact that the top lobbyist for Monsanto has been given an advisory job with the Romney campaign is not unprecedented, but it does pose the worrying question: Where does the Romney agricultural policy begin and the lobbying efforts of Monsanto end?

In addition to Russell, the Agricultural advisory Committee is staffed with numerous other agri-business supporters:

Chuck Connor - The former leader of the Corn Refiners Association; this is the largest interest group for ethanol and corn syrup producers within the United States.
Bill Even – The former head of the DuPont Chemical “high-tech seed” division, which manages DuPont’s GMO seed business.
Chris Policinski – The CEO of “Land O Lakes” and a party to the 2007 GMO alfalfa case in California.
Tom Nassif – The leader of the Western Growers Association who has been the recipient of thousands of dollars in donations from the Monsanto Fund.
Tom Johanns – A senator from Nebraska who has taken nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from Monsanto and who advocated in favor of blocking GMO labeling during the early 2000s push by the EU to mandate disclosure.

Partisanship and Money

The presidential election is important, but it does not exist in a vacuum—the views of a candidates’ party are extremely important to the eventual policy that they will push for in the legislature. The modern Republican Party has become focused upon the policies of reducing corporate taxes and reducing regulations on industry. Tax cuts and deregulation of industry standards are both immensely beneficial to large corporations, such as Monsanto. While it has significant control over regulators through its revolving-door appointees, Monsanto is still vulnerable to regulations on its business.

Of the two major American political parties, the Republicans promote deregulation, while the Democrats support regulatory increases (or sometimes simply retention of current regulations). If elected, it is virtually certain that Romney will sign off on his party’s platform of deregulation and tax cuts. Nothing in his history has indicated that Romney will buck his party on issues of legislation, and it appears that a Romney presidency would allow the Republican legislature to pass pro-corporate legislation without fear of veto.

In the last electoral cycle, the Republicans in the legislature have taken $226,000 from Monsanto Co., while Democrats have taken only $90,500 (for a full list, sorted by candidate, follow this link). It is clear that the Republicans, as a party, are friendlier to Monsanto’s interests than the Democrats and would likely have more favorable policy outcomes if the Republicans had control over policy.


When all things have been considered, it is undeniable that Monsanto has significant influence over both major parties in the United States—the only real difference between the candidates is how deep this influence goes. Regardless of whether it is Obama or Romney who becomes the next president, it appears that Monsanto will continue to have significant power in Washington politics and will retain a very high level of lobbying influence.

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