by Marion Nestle

Search results: revolving door

Dec 22 2020

The revolving door keeps turning

I haven’t written anything about the “revolving door” for a while, but it is now time.  This term refers to government officials who leave to work for industry, and vice versa.

Recent example #1: The USDA has just announced that its Chief Economist, Robert Johansson, will be leaving USDA to become Associate Director of Economics and Policy Analysis for the American Sugar Alliance.

Recent example #2: The president-elect’s newly named secretary of the USDA is Tom Vilsack who was was USDA Secretary during the Obama administration.  In 2017, he became executive vice president of Dairy Management, Inc.,and president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, a Dairy Management subsidiary, at a salary close to $1 million.    As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal explains, this organization represents Big Dairy:

As the number of dairy farms nationwide has plummeted by nearly 20,000 over the past decade, there’s one corner of the industry doing just fine:  The top executives at Dairy Management Inc., who are paid from farmers’ milk checks. The Illinois-based nonprofit is charged with promoting milk, cheese and other products — spending nearly $160 million a year collected through federally-mandated payments from dairy farmers.  In 2017, a year in which 503 dairy farms closed in Wisconsin and 1,600 were shuttered nationwide, IRS records show 10 executives at the organization were paid more than $8 million — an average of more than $800,000 each.

The revolving door brings government experts into food trade associations where they can help food companies meet—but also avoid—regulations.

It brings food company executives into government where they can make sure that no government agency does anything inconvenient for the company’s bottom line.

Examples, alas, are legion.  They are signs of government as usual, at a time when agricultural policy needs a huge rethinking.

Oct 14 2015

The Revolving Door: From CSPI to The Sugar Association?

Politico Morning Agriculture (behind a firewall, unfortunately) reported this morning that Bruce Silverglade has filed a letter on behalf of The Sugar Association objecting to the FDA’s proposal to put Added Sugars on food labels.

The objection is on procedural grounds.  The Sugar Association opposes the FDA’s labeling proposal and wants the agency to allow more time for public comment (and, of course, additional time for lobbying against the measure).

Silverglade is now an attorney at Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz.  He joined this firm after resigning from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), where he had worked as director of legal affairs for more than 25 years.

CSPI has advocated for policies to reduce sugar intake for many years, and favors putting Added Sugars on labels (as I explained in a previous post).

The “Revolving Door”—-exchange of positions between the food industry and government—often raises uncomfortable questions.

This example, a move from a food advocacy group to The Sugar Association, is unusual.  And sad.

Jan 26 2015

Some thoughts about the Revolving Door

Joel Leftwich has left his job as senior director for PepsiCo’s public policy and government affairs team (since March 2013) to become staff director for the Senate Agriculture Committee now led by Pat Roberts (R-Kansas).

In some ways, it’s a perfectly logical appointment.  Before joining PepsiCo, Leftwich worked for Roberts as a legislative aide from 2005 to 2010 and as deputy staff director for the Ag Committee from 2011 to 2013.

But his connection to PepsiCo raises concerns.  The Ag committee will be dealing with several issues involving sodas and snack foods opposed by some members of Congress:

  • Reauthorization of WIC, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (its requirements for healthy foods are always under pressure).
  • Preservation of the school nutrition standards authorized by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (under attack by the food industry and its friends in Congress).
  • SNAP nutrition standards (there is a movement to make sodas ineligible for SNAP-EBT purchases).
  • Issuance of the 2015 dietary guidelines, always under pressure not to say anything direct about not drinking sodas.
  • Issuance of the new food labels.  The soda industry opposes putting in “added sugars.”   While this is FDA’s purview, not USDA’s, the Ag Appropriations Committee governs FDA’s appropriations.

And on the state level, it’s worth taking a look at what the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is up to, courtesy of Bettina Siegel’s The Lunch Tray: “cupcake amnesty.”

Clearly, agricultural policies affect public health in highly prominent ways.

That’s why we need to do a much better job of connecting food policy to health policy.

And that’s why having a leading PepsiCo lobbyist in charge of agricultural committee staff raises serious concerns about conflict of interest.

Sep 30 2014

What do you think? Is the “Revolving Door” useful or conflicted?

My post about the “Revolving Door” elicited a thoughtful response from Jerry Hagstrom, Founder and Executive Editor of the immensely useful Hagstrom Report, to which I subscribe.

He writes: “You seem critical of the “revolving door” but I would ask the following:

  • What would you have these people do for employment when they leave government? If they are political appointees,  they can’t stay forever.
  • Shouldn’t they use their knowledge? Should they be expected to move into an entirely different field? Wouldn’t it be a shame for the professional world of food and agriculture to lose their expertise?
  • What about academics who take government jobs and then go back to academia? Don’t they learn how to get research grants? But their knowledge of how government works is considered valuable to universities and to students.
  • Do you see any problem with someone being in government and then going to work for a nongovernmental organization or a foundation or coming from an NGO or a foundation into government? That happens too and those institutions have agendas.

As a reporter I view all these people with a combination of faith and skepticism whether they are in government or out.

Good questions, with no easy answers.

Open Secrets provides many examples of government officials who become lobbyists for the industries they used to regulate.

Conflicts of interest are likely to be even greater for those who revolve the other way—from industry to government–and especially when former industry executives move to high-level positions in regulatory agencies.

If nothing else, I see the revolving door as giving the appearance of conflict of interest.

Readers: What do you think?  How would you respond to Jerry Hagstrom’s questions?

 

 

 

Sep 29 2014

The infamous “revolving door:” two recent examples

The Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website is the go-to source for information about undue corporate influence in Washington.

Among other juicy tidbits, it has some things to say about the “revolving door,” the trading of jobs between government and the industries it regulates.

Although the influence powerhouses that line Washington’s K Street are just a few miles from the U.S. Capitol building, the most direct path between the two doesn’t necessarily involve public transportation. Instead, it’s through a door—a revolving door that shuffles former federal employees into jobs as lobbyists, consultants and strategists just as the door pulls former hired guns into government careers.

Here are two recent examples:

  • According to the Hagstrom Report, Anne Cannon MacMillan, a deputy chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, left the USDA to become the director of government relations for Roll Global, the California company founded by Stewart and Lynda  Resnick, the owners of Pom Wonderful, Fiji water, and other brilliantly marketed food and beverage products.
  • Robert Post, left his post as acting director  of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the agency that brings us the MyPlate food guide, to join the Chobani yogurt company, as its senior director for nutrition and regulatory affairs.

Former federal officials come to industry with deep knowledge of how the system works and how to beat it.   They also bring long lists of key contacts who know how to make Washington work in the new employer’s favor.

Oh yes.  They also get paid better.

Ethical?  Revolving door appointments follow the letter of the ethics law.  We can argue about whether they follow its spirit.

Dec 8 2008

Revolving door: USDA –> NRA

I love keeping track of the revolving door between government food agencies and the food industry.  Thanks to Food Chemical News for this latest example: Beth Johnson, interim undersecretary for food safety at USDA, resigned today to take a position as executive vice president of public affairs at the National Restaurant Association.

Let’s wish her well on the new job and hope she helps restaurant owners stay out of food safety troubles.

Nov 2 2007

The revolving door: better than ever!

Such things never cease to amaze. The Grocery Manufacturers of America, a lobbying and trade organization for the retail food industry, has just recruited Robert Brackett as its new senior vice president in charge of regulatory affairs. And who could possibly be better qualified. To take this job, Mr. Brackett will be leaving his position as director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the part of FDA that deals with food issues. I hope they are paying him tons of money.

Dec 15 2021

Let’s talk about food industry lobbying

Lobbying is legal; it is simply requests of legislators by interest groups for action in their own interests.  Everyone can do this, but corporations that donate to election campaigns have greater access to legislators and also deeper pockets to pay people to do this work.  And lobbyists are often former employees of government regulator agencies who now work for corporations—the “revolving door.”  The biggest problem for food advocacy groups: finding the funds to pay people to lobby for their issues.

Recent reports on lobbying and lobbyists:

I.  Food Research Collaboration: Examination of power, access, and influence of participants at the recent COP26 climate change negotiations in Glasgow.  Conclusions:

  • The Brazilian delegation had the highest number of food industry representatives, including beef producers.
  • Food industry members attended as part of groups officially considered Non-Governmental Organisations.
  • Representatives of many food corporations and trade groups attended.

II.  Dive Wire: Where the dollars go: Lobbying a big business for large food and beverage CPGs.  Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, AB InBev and 27 other companies spend close to $40 million a year on issues including trade and taxes in an effort to make their voices heard by lawmakers and regulators.

III.  American Enterprise Institute: Political Influence Efforts in the U.S. Through Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Expenditures: An Index Approach

IV.  American Enterprise Institute.   Farm-Sector Spending on Federal Campaign Contributions snd Lobbying Expenditures: Evidence from 2003 to 2020.

Here’s why the farm sector lobbies:

The system is rigged: no group advocating for small and medium farms, “horticulture vs. commodities, conservation, sustainability, or regenerative agriculture can possibly compete with Big Food or Big Ag.