Photo By Marjorie Haun

Attorney for Ranchers’ group responds to “guilt by association” smear campaign

“How could such a logical request stir such ire? Because it will affect NCBA’s bottom line. NCBA runs the Federation of State Beef Councils, which gets money from the councils. Thus, if producers give the councils less, less money ends up under NCBA’s control.”

Introduction by Editor

Drovers Editorial by David Muraskin

The Rancher-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), an organization representing independent ranchers, appears to be in the crosshairs of some of the nations largest cattlemen’s groups for its position on the Beef Checkoff Program. In an August 8th post on its website, R-CALF described the Beef Checkoff Program as “a federal tax that compels producers to pay $1 per head every time cattle are sold, half of which is used to fund the advertisements of private state beef councils, like the Montana Beef Council. The Montana Beef Council is a private corporation whose members include representatives of the largest multinational beef packers, and the USDA has admitted as much over the course of this litigation. Public Justice is lead counsel in this constitutional challenge.”

In May of 2016, R-CALF, with the assistance of Public Justice, launched a lawsuit in Montana’s District Court challenging the federal government’s oversight of the Beef Checkoff Program. Having won in the Montana court in June of 2017, R-CALF has since taken its lawsuit to thirteen other states, and the big beef associations–the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in particular–are not happy. Numerous op-eds slamming R-CALF have been published, and most recently, an editorial by Kate Miller in Drovers claimed that R-CALF has ties to the anti-agriculture “animal rights” group, HSUS. Calling Miller’s article part of a “smear campaign,” David Muraskin, the attorney with Public Justice, which joined R-Calf in its Beef Checkoff lawsuits, responded with his own editorial in Drovers:

The Drovers piece written by Kate Miller—that attacks me, my organization Public Justice, our client, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, and another group, the Organization of Competitive Markets—is the latest piece of a desperate, coordinated smear campaign undertaken by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Indeed, Ms. Miller’s piece bears a striking resemblance to a piece penned last year by Kendal Frazier, NCBA’s CEO, that we already refuted. It also sounds a lot like this Larry Stromprud op-ed we’ve seen pop-up in a number of local newspapers. NCBA knows its history of using Beef Checkoff money for its own ends and to harm the independent American rancher is indefensible, so it looks to distract and point fingers, and does so by getting others to act as its stand in.

Ms. Miller’s statement isn’t most notable for the fact that it is in service of a corporate shill, however, but that it chooses to repeat NCBA’s lies.

Public Justice and R-CALF have consistently been attacked for filing a First Amendment challenge to the Beef Checkoff program. NCBA and those repeating its talking points have claimed this suit seeks the “demise” of the “American cattle industry.”

On its face, this claim is a head scratcher. If the program is unconstitutional why should it be allowed to continue? Ms. Miller proclaims she works for Stand Up Republic, a group founded by Evan McMullin, which states that its “principles” include “Freedom of speech is a foundational human right and essential to democracy.” Apparently that’s only true when they like the results.

More importantly, our First Amendment suit wouldn’t take a dime out of the checkoff program, rather it just gives producers choice—hard to see how producer choice will lead to the demise of anything. Right now, state beef councils are automatically allowed to take half the checkoff money collected in their state. Because the government has admitted those state councils can be entirely private and unaccountable, our suit says that they should only be allowed to keep the checkoff money if producers consent. If not, the money should go to the Beef Board and Beef Committee who are answerable to the government. Same amount of money goes in; Public Justice and R-CALF just believe that producers shouldn’t be forced to fund a private group if they don’t want to. To date, three courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals have agreed with us.

How could such a logical request stir such ire? Because it will affect NCBA’s bottom line. NCBA runs the Federation of State Beef Councils, which gets money from the councils. Thus, if producers give the councils less, less money ends up under NCBA’s control.

Moreover, the goal in giving producers choice is to provide them leverage. If they don’t like how the state council is spending their money, they can move it. Historically, checkoff money has been used to promote the packers and their allies. For instance, in Montana, the state council used checkoff money to fund ads for the fast food chain Wendy’s, which doesn’t commit to sourcing its beef from the U.S., let alone Montana. If producers have leverage, the corporations that fund NCBA won’t be able to get away with this mismanagement to the same extent.

Because all of the above is so reasonable, NCBA, Ms. Miller and others rely on a second lie in the hopes of discrediting our statements: That I and Public Justice are just a front for the Humane Society of the United States. While we have said this before, let me be as absolutely clear once again, neither I nor Public Justice have ever received a cent from HSUS.

See the full Muraskin response here

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