On Tuesday, in a desperate move to conceal the truth about how cattlemen’s Beef Checkoff funds have been spent, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) filed a late claim to intervene in a case that has been ongoing for nearly two years and on an issue that the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) has been pursuing for over five years.
In October of 2014, OCM filed the original complaint for injunctive relief, demanding the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Department of Agriculture make a final determination and release all required records related to a 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding Beef Checkoff audit reports. The 2014 original complaint followed 18 months of OCM wrestling to get to the truth about an OIG Beef Checkoff audit that begun in 2011.
“So far it has been a five year fight to get to the truth, but we are in for the long haul. We are not going to back down until the American cowboy knows the truth,” stated Fred Stokes, OCM board member. “This desperate move to block the public’s right to know is to be expected. Just this last year NCBA attempted to have the U.S. Congress hide all checkoff programs from the Freedom of Information Act by pushing a Rider on an appropriations bill. And just like that effort, I am confident the judge will see through their attempt to keep the cattlemen in the dark.”
This saga began when more than two years after OIG began an investigation – and after generating more than 3,000 pages of report drafts – OIG released a scant, 17-page report that appeared wholly irreconcilable with a previous Clifton Gunderson partial audit findings. Remarkably and to the contrary, it stated, “The Office of Inspector General (OIG) determined that the relationships between the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board (beef board) and other industry-related organizations…complied with legislation,” This shocking statement was later removed from the report without explanation.
Unaddressed in the OIG report was the glaring and fundamental conflict of interest created by NCBA having iron-fisted control of the Checkoff contract awarding process and using this control to consistently award more than 90% of the contracts to itself.
In an initial response to OCM’s FOIA request, OIG acknowledged it had located more than 10,000 pages of information. Yet, after 18 months and multiple demands, OCM did not receive more than 1,000 heavily redacted pages from OIG, and with no final determination in sight which led OCM to file its original complaint.
In previous statements, OCM has warned that OIG’s continued stonewalling on releasing the truth would lead the public to begin to believe it is just an outright cover-up and that the audit report is in stark variance with the facts found by the OIG investigators.
OCM has been a leader in reforming the Beef Checkoff and restoring transparency and integrity to the program. Following the troubling findings of the Clifton Gunderson report, OCM brought together a number of cattle industry organizations and individuals to form the Beef Checkoff Reform Taskforce.
The fact is, NCBA votes itself the lion’s share of the producer mandated checkoff funds which they then use to build their political power in Washington, D.C. and in state capitols. They use this ill-gotten influence to promote the interests of global meat packers and big retailers against the interests of Checkoff-paying cattlemen. “It’s now time to bring this regretful affair to light,” explained Stokes. “OCM is confident the records we have fought long for will clearly demonstrate that NCBA has played fast and loose with U.S. cattlemen’s money,” he said.
“NCBA’s action on Tuesday clearly demonstrates they know the truth, they have abused the beef checkoff funds and they will do anything to keep the cattlemen in the dark.” explained OCM President Mike Weaver. “You have to wonder what they have to hide if they are willing to go to these extremes. It is just a shame that they are more than likely using checkoff funds to file this motion which is against the very people who are forced to pay the funds.” concluded OCM President Mike Weaver.
Since these abuses and other commodity checkoff program abuses have come to light, U.S. Senator Lee (R) Utah has filed SB 3200 which would make all commodity checkoff programs voluntary. U.S. Senator Booker (D) New Jersey has joined Senator Lee in filing SB 3201. If adopted, SB 3201 would provide meaningful reform to all checkoff programs including banning lobbying organizations such as NCBA from receiving any checkoff funds, would provide further transparency and would strengthen the market disparagement and anti-competitive provisions within current law.