Agriculture Committee head racks in funding from industries worried over budget cuts
by Hallie Sacks
WASHINGTON- In advance of the 2012 Farm Bill, big sugar is sweetening the election funds for Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) as he guides looming budget cuts.
This election cycle, Florida sugar industries donated $34,500 to Lucas’ 2012 campaign, totaling higher than donations from Oklahoma. Donations from sugar and other agricultural industries make up nearly half of Lucas’ current budget.
This year, Lucas is the number one congressional recipient from agricultural services, crop production and sugar production—a leap from the 2010 election cycle when he was the third highest recipient of money from agricultural services. .
When Lucas first won office in 1994, he received $2,000 from sugar industries. That number grew as Lucas, a rancher and farmer himself, routinely voted in favor of sugar policy and agricultural subsidies.
After Lucas became chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture in 2010, the sugar industry more than doubled its financial support, from over $18,000 in 2008 to $39,000 in 2010.. Funds from other agriculture business increased as well, more than tripling funds from the previous election.
Currently, Lucas is focused on protecting the new 2012 Farm Bill from severe budget cuts by the congressional “Super Committee” that formed to trim more than $1 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years. Lucas, along with a handful of congressional agricultural leaders, is drafting a proposal that cuts $23 billion from the $284 billion granted to the 2008 Farm Bill.
Under a heavy microscope sits the sugar industry, which functions at no cost to the government, but is highly regulated by special trade laws which doubles the U.S. market price of sugar compared to world prices.
Organizations such the Coalition for Sugar Reform and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D- N.H.), Mark Kirk (R- Ill.), and Richard Durbin (D- Ill.) are pushing legislation to open up trade with sugar producing countries and remedy current policies.
The sugar industry, like the opposition, has both Democratic and Republican representatives on their side. Lucas, along with Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich,) and Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), respectively the top congressional sugar funds recipients, continue to vocalize the need for sugar expansion into the renewable fuels market rather than reform. All four representatives are also among the leaders involved in the 2012 Farm Bill proposal.
In a press release, the American Sugar Alliance said of Lucas, “During the last Farm Bill, he worked to build bipartisan consensus for a fiscally responsible farm safety net…We are eager to work closely with Chairman Lucas to maintain the existing no-cost sugar policy in the next Farm Bill.”
Though the biggest supports, Sugar isn’t the only industry that recently increased donations to Lucas.
More Southern peanut industries are also shelling out funds towards Lucas’ campaign. Never large supporters in the past, Alabama Peanut Producers Association, American Peanut Shellers Association and the National Peanut Buying Point Association have contributed $5,000 each to Lucas’ 2012 election cycle.
With many schools and workplaces banning peanuts due to allergies, the peanut industry is amping up lobbying efforts. This year the peanut industry has spent over $500,000 on lawmakers and regulatory agencies.
The dairy industry is also anticipating changes from the upcoming farm bill.
FRANK LUCAS CAMPAIGN DONATIONS 2012