by Zaid Jilani
The selection of another former lobbyist belies Clinton’s newfound “populism”.
As the primary campaigns on both sides of the aisle heat up, they are starting to staff their ground teams – the folks responsible for winning over local party elites and doing ground-level organizing.
While in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton tapped LaDavia Drane to head her campaign’s outreach to black voters.
Drane most recently worked for Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser. Before that, she was a director at the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. These are public service positions well-suited for outreach to the African American community. So is campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008 and working for Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH). But between her stints working for the government, she took some time off to lobby for the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).
The GMA is not a well-known lobbying organization, but the organization has existed since 1908 to represent the interests of the food industry; its 2007 merger with the Food Products Association ensured that it is the largest single representative for both food producers and grocery providers.
In December 2010, GMA hired Drane as a Senior Director for Federal Affairs, pointing to her “solid background in politics legal, legislative, and regulatory policy.” It specifically recalled her “recent work in the House of Representatives on childhood obesity policy.” And indeed, nutrition and obesity issues were a big part of the lobbying work she ended up doing. Disclosures show that she and other lobbyists from GMA were tasked with lobbying on various issues related to nutrition, food stamps, food marketing, and obesity.
The question is, what is the GMA’s take on these issues? What does the food industry’s agenda look like?
Like all other industries that lobby governments, the bottom line is the bottom line. Take the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, which is also known as the food stamp program), one of the issues Drane and other GMA lobbyists were tasked with.
For years, health policy experts such as those at the American Heart Association have wanted to re-tool SNAP to promote healthier foods and get lower-income Americans access to goods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. GMA opposed these efforts, saying they would result in removing “consumer choice.”
Another big area of interest for GMA has been battling efforts to label products that include Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Following a lawsuit by Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson, GMA was forced to disclose that it funneled more than $1 million each from PepsiCo, Nestle USA, and Coca-Cola to fight an initiative in that state to require labeling of genetically engineered food. Remember that Hillary did praised speeches at GMO events where she praised the industry, and one of her top fixers in Iowa is a former Monsanto lobbyist.
A significant portion of GMA’s activities are spent simply refining the image of the industry itself. Last year, the documentary called Fed Up took a close look at how the food industry addicts Americans, including children, to junk foods that cause obesity and other health problems. Rather than admit any culpability for the obesity crisis, GMA launched a public relations offensive, setting up a website almost identical to that of the film’s where it ran “facts” such as debunking the statement that the “food industry purposely advertises unhealthy foods to children.”
As the Huffington Post’s Christina Wilkie noted, the website and public relations campaign was a substitute for GMA actually agreeing to talk to the filmmakers who produced Fed Up – they declined all requests for actual interviews.
All of this may have special relevance for the population that LaDavia Drane has been tapped to liaise with. Obesity is particularly severe among the African American population, with 57.6 percent of non-Hispanic black woman 20 years and older who are obese. Junk food companies consistently target black (and hispanic) youth far more than they target white kids.
In 2008, Barack Obama and Hillary furiously sparred over the latter’s acceptance of lobbyist money. This year, Hillary isn’t just taking their money, but also elevating them to key positions in her second quest for the White House.