Candidate Barack Obama liked to assail “the special interests who dominate” Washington’s policymaking process, and the revolving door that corrupts government and enriches the well-connected. The Obamas also talk up farmers markets, the ideas of “slow food” and small agriculture — even planting a vegetable garden on the White House lawn.
But the president has governed quite differently in the realm of agriculture, showing a pattern of favoritism towards industrial farming and agri-chemical giants such as Monsanto. And if more evidence was needed that Obama’s anti-lobbyist, anti-revolving door rhetoric was mostly smoke, the president’s moves in agriculture provide it.
Most recently, Obama showed his agri-chemical colors with his nomination of Isi Siddiqui as the chief agricultural negotiator at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. If confirmed, this would be Siddiqui’s second spin through the revolving door.
After 28 years at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, he entered the Clinton Administration. There he served in the Agricultural Marketing Service before spending four years as the senior trade advisor to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
Then Siddiqui cashed out. In 2002, he became a lobbyist for CropLife America, the lobbying group for pesticide and herbicide manufacturers.
Siddiqui avoids any clash with the executive order restricting lobbyists in Obama administration posts because he last registered as a lobbyist in 2004. Currently, however, he serves as CropLife’s “vice president for science and regulatory affairs.”
So, Siddiqui works for a lobbying organization as the VP in charge of “regulatory affairs,” but he isn’t registered as a lobbyist (meaning he supposedly spends less than 20 percent of his time talking to government officials), so he’s cool by Obama’s standards.
Aside from the revolving-door hypocrisy, parts of Obama’s liberal base, as you might imagine, are pretty upset with this pick on substantive grounds. Liberals who dislike corporate farming and dislike pesticides tend to want more regulation that limits chemical use on food and encourages organic, local and traditional farming.
Siddiqui’s track record in government pointed in the opposite direction, as does CropLife’s lobbying agenda.
But it’s not simply a matter of Siddiqui and CropLife opposing increased regulation of pesticides. He has also championed some big-government policies that help big agribusiness at the expense of smaller businesses. A 1998 article from the liberal Mother Jones magazine discussed the organic standards Siddiqui developed at Clinton’s USDA:
“The proposed standards also would prohibit organic certifiers from requiring higher standards than those of the USDA.” In other words, the USDA was outlawing private-sector regulation of food if that private regulation was more stringent than the government’s regulation.
The agri-chem lobby also secured a favor in the House of Representatives’ climate change bill. The Waxman-Markey bill grants valuable “carbon offsets” to farmers who use low-till or no-till methods of farming.
In short, the government pays you for using chemicals, rather than tilling, to fight weeds in your fields.
Siddiqui’s record fits into the Obama administration well. In March, Obama tapped Mike Taylor to head his food safety working group, and since then, he appointed him as the top food safety advisor at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Taylor has spun through the revolving door four times, including a stint as the top lobbyist for agri-chemical giant Monsanto.
Taylor’s big food-safety regulation under Clinton was his creation of the “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points” regulations on food-processing plants. This regulation, in the words of an academic study, “favors large plants over small ones,” because it costs small producers four or five times as much per pound as it costs large producers.
Increasingly, Obama’s liberal base and those who believed his talk on good government are finding that the real “change” is not from past administrations to this one, but from the campaign rhetoric to the governing reality.
Timothy P. Carney is The Washington Examiner’s Lobbying Editor.