© Josh Sager – June 2014
The revolving door is a massive problem in American politics, where individuals cycle between public and private sector positions in a way that produces massive conflicts of interest. An individual can start their career working for a for-profit corporation, then migrate into a regulatory post or elected office, then into trade association positions, and finally go back to the private sector and make a huge profit off of decisions that they made during their previous public positions.
The multi-billion dollar agribusiness giant Monsanto has a long and extremely widespread history of participation in this revolving door, at every level of American government. Ex-Monsanto employees, particularly from their lobbying and legal infrastructures, fill numerous judicial, regulatory and advisory positions in the US government.
This revolving door for Monsanto allies has been present in virtually every administration for the past few decades, regardless of partisanship. The positions offered to these individuals range in power between immensely influential posts in the Supreme Court (SCOTUS Justice Thomas was a Monsanto lawyer) and top regulatory agencies (ex. EPA and FDA deputy chiefs), to local positions that have only very limited reach (ex. a state level trade association position).
For a breakdown of Monsanto’s revolving door in regard to Obama and potential Romney appointees from the 2012 election cycle, you can follow this link: http://www.leahcollective.org/news-room/123-newsletter-articles/357-monsanto-and-the-presidency-the-2012-presidential-candidates-does-it-really-make-a-difference
The Revolving Door
Monsanto’s connections with regulatory agencies, politicians and judges are highly entrenched on the federal level. Ex-Monsanto employees advise our politicians, sit on our appeals courts, and even decide how to implement the regulations on the industry. Theoretically, as the most knowledgeable people in their field, this would make sense, but, in practice, we see a much darker picture emerge.
A constant rotation of employment between the public sector and agribusiness creates a virtually insurmountable conflict of interests. For example:
- Regulators go to work for the very companies that they regulated while working in the public sector (or, didn’t regulate, as is often the case). This conflict causes regulators to look the other way when a potential future employer decides to break the law, as they fear losing out on lucrative post-public service positions.
- Ex-Monsanto employees become State Department trade officials who help turn US foreign policy towards promoting the sale of GMO seeds abroad to developing countries. This conflict causes the US State Department to become a de-facto tool of big-agribusiness.
- Ex-Monsanto lawyers (ex. Clarence Thomas) get placed on the bench, where they can rule in favor of big-agribusiness and against farmers, disclosure, or regulation.
- Politicians are hired as “consultants” after their terms in office and are given large salaries. These positions serve no real purpose other than to retroactively bribe politicians into not supporting anti-agribusiness bills (if you don’t play ball while in office, you don’t get the big-money post-office gig).
Put simply, the revolving door is corruption at its most insidious and is something that we must combat immediately. When public servants are given retroactive bribes or are simply tools of their previous employers, the result is public policy that is unfairly slanted in favor of industry—when this slant involves food safety, the potential for harm is immense.
MA Farm Bureau and Brad Mitchell
The revolving door for Monsanto employees is extremely relevant on the federal level (a single high-placed individual can have wide-reaching effects), but it is equally consequential on the state-level. State level politicians, regulators and lobbying organizations that have been captured by the Monsanto revolving door allow the industry to sway public policy on the state level and ensure that states cannot bypass the federal malaise.
There are many examples of ex-Monsanto employees gaining positions of power that can be used to benefit the corporation, but one great local example (as a resident of Massachusetts) is that of Brad Mitchell.
In August of last year, Brad Mitchell was hired to head the Massachusetts branch of the American Farm Bureau Federation–a non-profit and non-partisan public policy and lobbying organization that exists to assist and represent the interests of farmers and farms.
Mitchell is a graduate of the Boston University School of Public Health, with a long employment history in the field of agriculture. Before being hired to represent MA farmers, Mitchell was employed by Monsanto as a Director of Public Affairs/Issues Management—in short, he was a public relations specialist who spent his time protecting Monsanto and improving their public image.
It is no surprise that Mitchell supports the sale of GMOs without labeling and has defended the GMO industry in the past. For example, Mitchell wrote an op-ed defending Monsanto’s controversial legal practices in regard to their seeds (this is the controversy that made its way up to the Supreme Court, where it was decided, in part, by Justice Thomas), where they would sue local farmers for selling/using seeds that they bought in previous years.
Given his history, it is no surprise that Mitchell has continued the Farm Association’s opposition to mandated GMO labeling (as is being considered by the Massachusetts legislature). That said, it is an important question whether Mitchell will actually look after the farmers who he theoretically represents, or will he represent Monsanto’s interests. Mitchell simply hasn’t been part of the Farm Bureau long enough conclusively determine where his intentions lie but, given the pattern of the revolving door, I am not optimistic.