WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2015 - Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., appear to be the favorites of farmers, ranchers and agribusiness executives who are contributing to the 2016 presidential campaigns or political action committees supporting them. Nevertheless, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired Baltimore neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also get significant financial support from the food and farm sector, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, does well among cattle ranching contributors from his home state.
Although total amounts can’t be obtained with precision, owing to differing terminology identifying employers on campaign finance disclosure reports, an Agri-Pulse examination of several hundred records on the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) data base shows patterns of contributions to the favored candidates and many of their PACs.
The database was searched by identifying terms such as “farmer” and “rancher,” by commodity groups – “sugar,” “dairy,” “citrus,” “cattle,” among them – and by company or association name. While it does not constitute a definitive – or even complete – analysis of the contributions, the search discovered, for example, a preponderance of sugar producer contributions to Rubio, and notable contributions from the Florida citrus industry to Bush and his “Right to Rise” PAC.
Sugar industry support for Rubio was driven in part by contributions from members of the Fanjul family, owner of Florida Crystals and other sugar entities, and non-family executives of the companies. Alfonso (Alfy) Fanjul and several family members donated the $2,700 maximum to the Rubio campaign while Jose (Pepe) Fanjul contributed the maximum to Clinton. A lobbyist who follows sugar matters estimates that growers and other industry officials have provided up to $400,000 to Rubio, more than $200,000 to Bush and “quite a bunch for Hillary.” Why the Rubio advantage? “Rubio announced earlier and asked earlier,” the lobbyist said.
Citrus industry support for Bush was led by R. William Becker of Peace River Citrus Products, Vero Beach, Florida, who gave $355,000 to the “Right to Rise” PAC and $2,700 to the Bush campaign. More than a dozen Peace River employees also made four-figure contributions. Bush’s PAC also has agribusiness support – $50,000 from John F. Brock III of Coca-Cola, $25,000 from Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson and $10,000 from Frank R. Jimenez of Bunge Ltd., Miami.
Measured strictly in dollar terms, Huckabee’s “Pursuing America’s Greatness” PAC appears to be the leader with a $3 million contribution from Ronald Cameron, CEO of the Arkansas-based Mountaire Corp. poultry operation. Cameron also gave $2,700 directly to Huckabee and $5,000 to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “Leadership Matters for America” PAC. Mountaire also has been a major backer of the Koch-backed super PAC network, “Freedom Partners Action Fund.”
However, Carson has an edge in donations from individual producers with 111 contributors who identify as a farmer or rancher. His largest contributor in this category is Harry Bettis, an Emmett, Idaho, rancher who gave $50,000 to the “National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee” last March. At least 20 gave four-figure amounts, the rest less than $1,000 each. The most generous were Emily Millis Hiatt, of High Point, North Carolina, and Darla and Michael Assman, of Mission, South Dakota, who listed “organic farmer/rancher” as their occupation.
Cruz led among donations aggregated in the CRP “livestock” category with $114,696, with the largest identified as ranchers or cattle producers in Texas. Carson collected $64,165 and Clinton $50,944 in the category. Bush’s “Right to Rise” PAC won several four- and five-figure contributions from ranchers, led by $12,500 from Paul Von Gontard, of Jackson, Wyoming.
Clinton’s farm and agribusiness support comes from a variety of donors. The CRP “agribusiness” classification shows her receipts at $289,613 to date, just ahead of Cruz, who collected $279,075, and Bush, who amassed $266,324. Murat M. Guzel of Nimex Organics Natural Food Source, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, gave $50,000 to her “Priorities USA Action” PAC and $2,700 to her campaign, as did four other Nimex employees. Several Coca-Cola employees contributed to her campaign at the $2,700 level.
Other $2,700 Clinton donors include Parks Shackelford, a Florida Crystals lobbyist; Jane Sumner, Dean Foods, Coppell, Texas; Barry Wolfish, Land O’Lakes, Plymouth, Minnesota; Shahab Handjani of Cargill, New York City; and General Mills executives Denise Holloman, Camille Gibson, Kimberly Nelson, Tim Huebsch and Christi Strauss. Barbara Tyson, a member of the Tyson Foods board, gave $1,100 and Julie Anna Potts, American Farm Bureau Federation, $500.
Not all contributions reap short-term rewards. Rancher Julianna Hawn, of Blanco, Texas, gave $250,000 to the “Opportunity and Freedom PAC” supporting former Texas Gov. Rick Perry in June, just before Perry dropped out of the campaign. Lewis E. Topper of Fast Food Systems, Mattituck, New York, gave $20,000 to the “John Bolton Super PAC” last February.
Other bits and pieces turned up in the search: Rubio’s PAC was the beneficiary of a $10,000 contribution from the Food Marketing Institute PAC . . . Gregg Engles, CEO of White Wave Foods, Denver, gave $5,000 to Christie’s PAC . . . While Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., shows up in very few farm and food categories, he did get $2,700 each from dairy farmers Klaas Talsma, Hico, Texas, and Wes Kerr, Buckeye, Arizona. . . . Sen. Lindsay Graham, D-S.C., got a $2,700 home state donation from John T. Cahill of Kraft Foods in Charleston . . . Carly Fiorina’s lone agribusiness donor was Roger Fairchild of Valley Vinegar, Fruitland, Idaho.
Although he is not strictly in the food and agriculture category, Texas energy investor Toby Neugebauer, son of House Agriculture Committee member Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, provided $10 million to the “Keep the Promise” PACs supporting Cruz.
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