Follow the Money: Insulating Agribusiness Through Lobbying and Suppression of Individual Free Speech

Mallorie McCue


Each year, the global food and beverage industry, made up of food suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers, generates more than $5.7 trillion in the business of developing food and selling it for consumption.[1] To maintain their profit level, agribusiness companies lobby the government, donating nearly $58 million to candidates for federal office in the 2010 election cycle alone.[2] In a time when the health and safety of our food is called into question, one wonders who is protecting the interests of consumers.[3] With the advent of Citizens United v. FEC, corporations are entitled to greater First Amendment protection than ever before, as the government is prohibited from making distinctions or imposing regulations based upon the identity of the speakers who are exercising their First Amendment rights.[1] Additionally, the decision set forth that corporations have no cap on spending for the election or defeat of candidates.[2] President Obama commented that the ruling "opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy . . . giv[ing] lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way-or to punish those who don't."[3]


At the heart of the matter is our First Amendment right to free speech. The First Amendment includes guarantees that Congress will make no law prohibiting or abridging the exercise of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or the petitioning of the Government for a redress of grievances. Corporations assert that their donations to candidates for public office are an exercise of their right to free speech and further their corporate speech.[4] However, whistleblowers insist that corporations are not individuals, and should not be protected as such; and that corporate contributions should be limited to protect against corruption.[5]

This Note argues that with Citizens United, special interests such as agribusiness now wield the greatest political and economic power in history, allowing them to further drown individual free speech with agricultural disparagement statutes and lobbying.[6] Private advocacy nonprofits rely on voluntary donations to enhance the impact of individual voices on elections. Yet corporations can simply make a large, tax-deductible donation to their chosen candidate at a crucial moment in the election, saving or defeating the candidate and preserving their corporate interest.[1] Paired with corporate practices that emphasize profits over the interests and welfare of the American people, such as utilizing agricultural disparagement statutes, industries such as agribusiness have been granted carte blanche to suppress individual free speech. With unlimited corporate funds flowing to favorable candidates, the ruling has the potential effect of suppressing public opinion by using corporate funding to further agricultural disparagement statutes. Section I will discuss commercial speech, food labeling, and the constitutionality of veggie libel laws, as well their effect of insulating agribusiness from criticism. Section II contains an analysis of Citizens United and its potential effect on agribusiness. Section III sets forth a proposed solution for dulling the impact of Citizens United with transparency, campaign finance reform and disclosure.

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