Ohio cattle producers are mandated by both state and federal laws to pay a fee to the government for every head of cattle they sell. Known as the Beef Checkoff Program, these mandatory fees are intended to be used for research and promotion of beef. The Ohio Beef Council, an agency of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, collects, administers, and expends these tax dollars.
The U.S. Supreme Court made clear that checkoff programs are activities and speech of the federal government, and therefore checkoff dollars are government funds rather than producer funds. Both Ohio state law and federal law prohibit these mandatory fees from being used to influence policy. But in Ohio, there is not adequate oversight of the collection, administration, or expenditure of these tax dollars. Without state appropriations or state audits, egregious abuses of these tax dollars are occurring.
The Ohio Beef Council contributes to the salaries and overhead costs of a trade and lobbying entity, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association. Sharing expenses for these internal operations furthers the policy activity of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association. The Ohio Beef Council promotes and collects contributions to the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s Political Action Committee (PAC) to influence elections and legislation. Further, the Ohio Beef Council has directly contributed nearly $100,000 to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a national trade and lobbying organization. The Ohio Beef Council altogether failed to account for its use of more than $22,000 checkoff dollars in 2016, but without state audits or appropriations of these tax dollars, the Ohio Beef Council is not being held accountable for the funds it administers.
Read Our Briefing Paper | Analysis of the Ohio Beef Checkoff Program: Serious Abuses Show a Need for Reform
Based on the requirements of federal and state laws as applied to the facts set out in our briefing paper, the Organization for Competitive Markets and Ohio Farmers Union recommend the following policy changes and government actions:
- Federal and state checkoff funds should be paid directly to the appropriate federal or state treasury and then be audited by the corresponding federal or state auditing agency.
- The Ohio Department of Agriculture should immediately segregate all activity between the Ohio Beef Council and the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association. Policy should be established that clearly outlines:
– No state employee should report to a lobbying entity office for work.
– No state or federal funds should be used directly or indirectly to offset a lobbying entity’s overhead costs, to include office rent, equipment costs, salaries or any incidental costs incurred by the lobbying entity.
– All government funds should be expended pursuant to state standard contracting processes.