Michael R. McLeod, who retired from agricultural lobbying to write books and operate a rustic cabin resort in the Appalachian Mountains, died July 20 in an Asheville, N.C., hospital from complications of COVID-19. He was 78.
A former staff director and general counsel of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry under the late Chairman Herman Talmadge, D-Ga., McLeod went on to build a lucrative career in private law practice, lobbying for a wide array of influential clients in commodity futures trading, crop insurance and agricultural commodity promotion boards funded by “checkoff” assessments on producers.
He joined the Agriculture Committee staff in the early 1970s after graduating from law school, helping write the Rural Development Act of 1972 for a subcommittee headed by Sen. Hubert Humphrey, D-Minn. On the full committee staff, he was instrumental in enactment of the Farm Credit Act of 1971, the 1973 farm bill, grain inspection reform legislation creating USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS), and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Act of 1974, which created the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
In 1983, McLeod went into private practice with the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) as his first client. He said last year that he remained involved in commodity futures regulation “for both private clients and pro bono work” for many years and “worked with CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler and Elizabeth Warren on the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2010.”
His experience in commodity legislation and as a private investor led to his most recent book, “The Greatest Financial Scandals of the Last Twenty Years: From Madoff to the Cover up of the OptionSellers/INT FCStone Scandal,” published last October.
His first book, “Luxury Vacation Rentals for Life: Vacation Rentals by the Numbers,” was the story of how he and his wife Sandra built a vacation rental business originally as a hobby. Together, they also wrote “Blue Ridge Mountain Gardening: Four Principles You Must Know for Gardening in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.” In March 2016, he published “The Death of Civility and Common Sense: How America Has Become Dangerously Polarized,” a reflection on how today’s political atmosphere contrasts sharply with that of the 1970s. Another book, “Flat Belly for Life: A Holistic Guide to Living a Healthy, Purpose Driven Life into Your 100’s,” also came out in 2016.
Late last year, he wrote that he hoped to publish two more books, one that describes the mandatory commodity checkoff programs for agricultural commodities and another that would tell the story of the development of the Federal Crop Insurance Program after he launched AACI in 1980.
McLeod’s career was not without controversy, often involving the commodity promotion and crop insurance clients of the law firm he co-founded, McLeod, Watkinson and Miller. The firm was the target of critics who, mostly without success, launched legal challenges attempting to block mandatory “checkoffs.” In one case, the firm was challenged in an intra-industry dispute involving the soybean checkoff, one of its major clients.
Following a dispute that eventually led to his departure from the law firm, McLeod sued the American Association of Crop Insurers (AACI), which had terminated him as its CEO in March of 2017, alleging age discrimination.
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