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Friday, December 13, 2013

Sugar Politics

Many posts have discussed how interest groups can influence public policy.  At The Washington Post, Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger explain the survival of sugar subsidies. (h/t BK)
This year, a well-heeled coalition of sugar-using companies stepped up their lobbying efforts to portray the program as costly to consumers and American workers. Newly elected tea party conservatives vowing to crusade against government meddling in free markets also provided fresh potential support.
“You would have thought that this would have been the year for reform,” said Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), whose state is home to Hershey and who sponsored measures to roll back sugar support. But, he added, “we were up against a force.”
Liberal sugar advocates included [Sen. Al] Franken, whose state is home to a large concentration of sugar-beet farmers, along with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), whose home areas include Fanjul-controlled refineries.
Nearly the entire Florida delegation — from Rubio, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee — voted to keep sugar protections in place.
Strong support has come from House conservatives, as well, including Rep. Michael K. Conaway (R-Tex.), chairman of a key agriculture subcommittee.
“The sugar guys win votes because they are better at politics than anyone else,” said one lobbyist who is close to sugar executives and requested anonymity to discuss industry thinking. “What other interest group in town do you know that can consistently draw support from hard-core conservatives, ethnic liberals and cost-conscious moderates?”
The industry is tiny in comparison to other agricultural commodities, but it outspends all other crop sectors combined on political-action-committee contributions to federal candidates. Sugar interests have spent $49 million on federal campaign donations and lobbying over the past five years.
On average, sugar farmers and employees gave more than five times as much money to members of Congress who sided with the industry than to members who did not, according to an analysis of key votes conducted for The Washington Post by the Center for Responsive Politics.