Monsanto Lobbying and Beyond Monsanto Assessment

Excerpt from Assessment :

This functional definition underlies many academic definitions of 'lobbying,' if not the letter of Federal Election Commission reporting statutes. McGrath (2007) quotes what he calls "the most influential PR text yet written" (269-70), Grunig and Hunt's 1984 assertion that "lobbyists attempt to focus attention on issues, facts and appeals that will lead to acceptance of their clients' point-of-view." Thomas and Hrebenar (2008) define 'lobbyist' as a "person designated by an interest or interest group to facilitate influencing public policy in that group's favor by performing one or more of the following for the group" which list includes monitoring governmental rulemaking activity, "advising on political strategies and tactics," direct contact with public officials, and managing the overall effort to affect policy outcomes (4). These authors expand these activities to "include decisions about who gets elected to make those policies," including representing "informal groups" not required to report more formalized lobbying expense and activity (Thomas and Hrebenar, 2008, p. 4).

The U.S. Senate Disclosure Act Database reveals 36 lobbying entries for Monsanto Company alone, not counting their employee Political Action Committee (PAC), to around $8 million (U.S. Senate, 2012) or so. The scope and definition of these contributions, expenditures, what activities are and are not considered such, and their reporting is set out in 2 U.S.C. 431(8) for federal candidates, and candidates and leadership PACs must disclose expenditures "bundled" by lobbyist / registrant PACs (Federal Election Commission, 2012, 50582). Monsanto gladly shares the names of who they gave their lobbying dollars to, on their home page (Monsanto Company, 2012e, n.p.), but beyond the names of who received this money, exactly how those expenses were deployed, affecting what issues, and what Monsanto got in return remains opaque and would require extensive research if the truth were possible to reconstruct, given the interest of the recipients in covering any collusion they and Monsanto may have committed on the campaign trail. Then the database for each state would have to be searched, for the same type of what effectively is opaque information beyond names and the bill numbers Monsanto paid others to or in many cases directly lobbied pro-or con in its own name. Nor do these definitions account for any donated lobbying or campaign materials up to a certain extent, activity volunteered by an 'uninterested' third party, lobbying by private individuals not running for office, or expenses not accrued on balance sheet by corporations, which includes PACs. Nor does the definition of lobbying expense include for example attempts by private individuals, say shareholders, who would directly and materially benefit from reduced regulatory barriers for Monsanto, even if the firm never knew of those activities and they were not required to be reported as lobbying. Therefore the broader McGrath (2007) and Thomas and Hrebenar (2008) definitions are more useful to a comprehensive and insightful understanding of Monsanto's work to influence public policy, often directly on the Hill but also often through influencing the electorate, which then elects the politicians who appoint regulators or write law themselves.

Legal disclosure not always complete

What are the campaign lobbying activities Monsanto admits to? The names of committees and individual candidates the firm donated to are clearly listed as a mix of Democratic and Republican candidates for office from local levels up to Congress, in apparently every state, including John Boehner; the Blue Dog PAC; Orrin Hatch, but also Raul Labrador, David Leobsback, and the Preserving America's Traditions and Rely on Your Beliefs PACs in 2011, whoever they are (Federal Election Commission, 2012). Even convicted crack dealer / D.C. Mayor Marion Berry got a piece of the Monsanto funding pie back in 2009, and John D. Ashcroft in 1999 (Federal Election Commission, 2012). Many of these constitute the arch-conservative leadership but these records display "Committees and Candidates Supported / Opposed," and attempting to disaggregate exactly who and what was supported, opposed, and how, from the influence traded at the "1997 Republican Senate-House Dinner" (Monsanto gave $1,500, 10 Jul. 1997) (Federal Election Commission, 2012) for example or from any of these records, would mislead more than it would reveal. Nonprofit watchdog group Open (2012) summarizes the Senate Disclosure Act information into about four registered activities last year per some ten or fifteen agencies on several dozen bills, to an expense of over $6 million, which is less than is clearly displayed on the Senate's own disclosure engine (U.S. Senate, 2012). Monsanto's displayed total comes to less than $500,000 (Monsanto Company, 2012d, n.p.). These may be different PACs. What to make of this conflicting, labyrinthine and apparently contradictory paper trail?

The major issues reveal where Monsanto's interests lie, as reported by the corporation itself, and by the actions brought against it in various courts around the world, including that of public opinion. The quality of all this information must be viewed as suspect given the interest all of these parties set out to defend, spin and frame (McGrath, 2007, p. 269-70). Where Monsanto discloses it settled on the Nitro poisoning, it frames that on its "Issues" page as that the "U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the companies were not responsible for the implications of military use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, because the manufacturers were government contractors, carrying out the instructions of government" (Monsanto Company, 2012a, n.p.). The "Court agreed that the companies were not responsible" sounds far different than a negligent company settling because its erstwhile partner spilled dioxins all over a West Virginia company town. Returning to the remaining disclosures in the Monsanto 10-K shows the firm expects "to face unpredictable regulatory environments that may be highly politicized" (Monsanto Company,. 2012c, 35), there specifically in India. "We operate in volatile, and often difficult, economic and political environments," the firm explains, and as such the genetically-modified cotton operation "is currently operating under state governmental pricing directives that we believe limit near-term earnings potential in India" (Monsanto 2012c, p. 35). What the 2011 10-K could not report but the 2012 edition will, is that the agrichemical giant is being charged with Indian partner firms for biopiracy by the Indian National Biodiversity Authority, for stealing eggplants (Laursen, 2012, p. 11). Monsanto stole or has received from a partner it allegedly owns 26% of (Barker, n.d.), stolen eggplant varietals from India in order to develop GM versions, allegedly, in violation of clear local statutes (Laursen, 2012, p.11). The verdict on this charge is still out, but the accusation is ironic considering that Monsanto's intense prosecution for exactly this type of property violation is the major complaint by U.S. farmers against the company.

Biggest problem in U.S. is aggressive competition by Monsanto

As introduced briefly above, Monsanto apparently sues American small farmers when its proprietary genetics show up in surrounding non-GM crops (Gerken, 2012, n.p.). The point is that these farmers save seed, which carries the genetics Monsanto developed and thus owns, but which the farmers also do not want, because this lowers the value of their organic or at least non-GM-labeled products. The result is that the farmers either have to change crops to something Monsanto does not sell, purchase license from Monsanto and stop claiming their crop is organic / non-GM, or stop saving seed. The result of that is higher costs for the independent farmers, who must then buy non-GM seed in the market. The outcome of that would be higher seed prices for Monsanto's competitors, and thus lower relative prices and higher demand for Monsanto's GM seed. The point is that Monsanto sues independent farmers for pollution the farmers don't want (GM genes), probably in order to stimulate demand for its GM products or at least raise relative prices for substitutes. Once farmers convert to the GM crops, the best way to cultivate them is to spray them with Monsanto's other major income generator, the herbicide Roundup, which "Roundup Ready" crops are genetically engineered to resist. Farmers also complain the GM corn, canola, soy and alfalfa are causing resistance in the weeds and predators these crops and chemicals were developed to overcome, a negative externality the University of Illinois is apparently investigating (Kaskey, 2011, n.p.). The farmers vs. Monsanto class action suit, thrown out because it attempted to forestall actions that specifically had not happened yet and thus was unactionable, was aimed at taking away Monsanto's power to do what they apparently have to many farmers in the past. Unfortunately for the farmers, like assault, the police cannot prosecute a crime that has not been committed, even if the stalker has a record a mile long.

So, if Monsanto is convicted of stealing Indian genetics in order to develop their typical genetically herbicide-resistant hybrids, the result will be that the firm wins product-theft lawsuits at home against…

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