Electoral politics and the meat industry

With the election fever having taken a firm hold on us this month, most of us in the United States already know who will receive our vote this season. But, most of us do not know which candidates are receiving the support of the meat, egg and dairy industries and whether this support is less likely for candidates with a history of taking the side of the animals in legislative matters.

Let’s begin with data on the voting record of the current incumbents running in elections for a seat in the US House of Representatives or the US Senate. The Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), a lobbying arm of the Humane Society of the United States, publishes a meticulously compiled annual report on the legislative record of the members of the Congress giving each a score between 0 and 100. Legislators with a perfect voting record who also show leadership on pro-animal bills receive a score of 100+. These are the scores I will use but since I need a number in my plots to represent 100+, I will replace it with a score of 110—I think leadership deserves at least an extra 10%. Also, for each candidate, I will use a cumulative HSLF score computed as the average of the HSLF scores over the last six years (one Senate term or three House terms) based on the Humane Scorecards produced by the HSLF for the 110th, 111th and the 112th Congress.

Of the members of Congress who have been given in a score in the most recent HSLF report, 404 of them will be on the ballot in November 2012. In this post, I consider each of these 404 candidates and examine the support they are receiving from the meat, egg and dairy industries, as measured by the contributions from Political Action Committees (PACs) aligned with the industry.

Sources cited
  1. Humane Society Legislative Fund. Humane Scorecards (for 112th, 111th and 110th Congresses). (link, accessed October 9, 2012)
  2. Center for Responsive Politics. Political Action Committees. (link, accessed October 9, 2012)
  3. Counting Animals. PACs Aligned with the Meat, Egg and Dairy Industries. Research Notes of Counting Animals, Note 2, October 8, 2012. (link, accessed October 8, 2012)

Using a list of registered PACs compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit with a mission to increase transparency in government, I have identified 96 PACs as being closely associated with industries related to meat, eggs or dairy. These include the usual suspects like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council, but also some others whose lobbying activities are largely shaped by their association with the meat industry (such as the American Veterinary Medical Association). Also included in my list of PACs are those associated with large producers of animal feed (such as Cargill and ADM), meat processors (such as Tyson and Smithfield) and meat-oriented restaurants (such as the Association of KFC Franchisees). You can download my complete list here. In this post, I will call them the meat PACs. The Center for Responsive Politics is also my source for data on contributions by each of these PACs to the candidates.

In the following plot, each point represents one of the 404 candidates mentioned above running in the upcoming election for a seat in either the US House of Representatives or the US Senate. The horizontal axis represents the cumulative HSLF score of a candidate. The vertical axis represents the total of the contributions from the 96 meat PACs to the candidate’s campaign during the current election cycle (based on data released by the Federal Election Commission on October 1, 2012.) You can hover your mouse over any point and find out the name, state and party affiliation of the candidate represented by the point.

Meat, egg, and dairy industry PAC money received by candidates
for the US House of Representatives and the US Senate
plotted against their cumulative score on humane legislation
Six-year cumulative HSLF score

The data plotted above allows many inferences. Here are some of my observations:

  • Power begets money because money begets influence. Frank Lucas (R-OK) is the current Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and it is not a surprise that he is the largest recipient of contributions from the meat PACs. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is the current Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and it is not a surprise that she is the second largest recipient of contributions from the meat, egg and dairy industries.
  • Democrats, in general, take a more pro-animal stand on legislative issues than Republicans do. While over 62% of Republicans have a poor humane score of lower than 20, 0% of the Democrats do. While less than 4% of Republicans have a good humane score higher than 80, 60% of the Democrats do. The meat PACs have contributed about $2.3 million to Democrats and over $6.6 million to Republicans.
  • There exists a correlation between the cumulative HSLF score of a candidate and the amount of meat PAC money the candidate’s campaign will receive. This correlation, however, is not a particularly strong one because most animal protection legislation that comes up in Congress is not directly related to the meat industry. This will likely change when legislative efforts for farm animal protection become more frequent or prominent.

  • Membership in the agricultural committee in the House or the Senate is a more reliable predictor of the meat PAC money received by a candidate than the voting record of the candidate. Pro-animal candidates with a good cumulative HSLF score of more than 80 have secured an average of only about $4,000 of meat PAC money while those with a poor score of less than 20 have secured an average of about $24,000. But, among the 404 candidates considered in this post, the 46 who sit on an agricultural committee received an average of about $50,000 from the meat PACs!

Given the millions of dollars involved in elections, the sum total of meat PAC contributions is not very high. This is thanks to the limits placed on these types of contributions; a PAC is allowed to give only $5,000 per candidate per election (primary or general), so no candidate can receive more than $10,000 during an election cycle from a PAC. This post, however, does not consider outside spending uncoordinated with a candidate’s campaign such as by corporations, associations, the parties themselves or the new beasts called super PACs. Some of these entities can collect unlimited donations, often without immediate disclosure, from individuals and corporations to support a candidate’s campaign. The trend over the last two years suggests that such outside spending will soon come to dominate our elections in the future. This may be the last Congressional election cycle in which we know, at least to some degree, whose influence the meat industry is trying to buy or who the meat industry wants elected.

Please vote!

Comments

vegan as fuck

well besides converting as many people as possible to veganism, and highlighting the dangers of animal protein in a human diet .. i just want to also give a big middle finger to all those politicians and lobbying groups out there that enslave animals and exploit them for no other reason than $ and greed.

Pablo Stafforini

Impressive analysis. Thank you for posting it!

panda

Wonderful analysis. Thanks for sharing!

Spike

Scary to think how much more influence will be bought by the meat industry superpacs!

Mike

You're not likely to see a strong correlation (linear relation) with a count or monetary variable. You can see from the scatter plot that there are very many zero or small contributions and few large ones. Better would be to take log(contributions + 1), adding one because log(0) is undefined, before determining the correlation. More important might be to control for committee status. I'd love to see separate scatter plots for congresspeople on an agricultural committee or not, using the transformed variable, with regression lines thrown in for good measure. I'd also love to get my hands on the data if you could email it to me.

There's still going to be a lot of noise though. There are countless other factors at play: in which house a congressperson sits, seniority or influence beyond committee status, competitiveness of the seat, population density, proximity of district to agriculture interests, demographic factors, etc. And while HSLF may account for leadership on pro-animal bills, they may not take account for leadership on anti-animal bills or for efforts used to block a pro-animal bill. For that you may need a Washington insider. Anthony Bellotti, co-founder and director of the Humane Research Council, e.g., happens to be a Republican campaigner.

The main limitation, as you mention, is probably that the HSLF score takes into account all animal legislation, while the PACs concern only animal agriculture interests. Nonetheless, this is an interesting analysis.

Harish

Mike, Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. You are right that when so many of the values are zero or close to zero, using the log function before computing correlations will better highlight small differences between contributions and make any correlations stand out more clearly. But, I think this would be worthwhile doing only if the data had very little noise, but that is not the case as you also point out. At small amounts up to a few thousand dollars, the data is mostly noise because some local industry may be giving to a candidate only because they are pro-business and may have nothing specific to do with animal welfare. Expanding these differences of a few thousand dollars using the log function may lead to incorrect inferences because a few thousand dollars may suddenly look like a big deal when it actually is not.

In general, I hesitate to transform data (such as using a log) instead of using the raw data for any deductions unless all variables are controlled carefully. Transformations can make things clearer but can also mislead us. As you also point out, there are so many factors at play here that it is almost impossible to control all the variables.

You said you would love to get your hands on the data. No problem. Just download the html source for this page and you will see all the data in the JavaScript code for the plot. I would love to hear any new insights from your analysis of the data.

Ciarrai

I would like to agree with Vegan as Fuck on the issue of politicians and lobbying groups that enslave and exploit animals for the money they can make from it. I would like to especially give 2 big middle fingers to the cowardly politicians who allowed the hunting of gray wolves to resume in Wyoming and other states. Fuck you, inhumane, cruel, corrupt politicians who would allow scumbags to hunt the wolves down for sport. The hunters should shoot themselves in the feet. The trappers: right around your necks with your traps. BTW, on the odd chance that a Supreme Being exists, I hope that Judgement Day is a painful one for all you animal exploiters and torturers.

sunny3800

Harish & Mike, I'd love to know the specific data on the candidates for Virginia. How can I learn more about their stance on animal issues and whether they sit on the board for or collect money from animal agribusinesses.

Harish

Sunny3800, you can learn about any candidate's stance on animal issues by going to the Humane Scorecards web site, linked in this blog post. You can also find out exactly how much money each candidate collected from various PACs from the Center for Responsive Politics, also linked in this post.

Kim

The problem I have with the HSLF approach is that it focuses solely on "animal welfare legislation,' which sets aside a truly comprehensive analysis of policy's effect on animals. E.G., politicians who support anti-horse-slaughter legislation (a good thing in itself) but also support degradation of wildlife areas are comprehensively more hurtful to animals than legislators with inverted voting records. Thus you see a lot of Republicans on this list who respond to the plight of popular domestic animals (again, a good thing in itself) whose overall voting records are a disaster for animals as a whole. If we really care about animals, we need to exercise a more sophisticated mode of analysis before expending our dollars and votes in ways that encourage sentimental but ultimately ruinous approaches to animal well-being.

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