Corporate Connection: Big Agriculture
George Earvin “Sonny” Perdue, the secretary of agriculture, was governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011, after a career as a farmer, veterinarian, agribusinessman and state legislator. Before taking office, he held ositions at eight different companies, including Perdue Partners, an export consulting company that Perdue founded along with his first cousin David Perdue, now a U.S. senator. Perdue’s time as governor was marked by many ethics controversies involving his private businesses.
- Over the course of his career, Perdue has collected donations totaling over $950,000 from the agricultural sector.
- Perdue collected at least $25,000 worth of gifts, including ones from tobacco company Altria and railroad company CSX, despite an executive order signed by Perdue requiring state employees to work for the benefit of the public rather than for financial or personal benefit.
- Perdue had a net worth of $6 million and his businesses were worth $2.8 million in 2006 when he ran for governor of Georgia.
- When elected governor, Perdue refused to put his businesses in a blind trust.
- As governor, Perdue met with state employees in the Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah to discuss the growth of Perdue’s private business. Perdue’s spokesman said that the governor was merely obtaining information that was available to any business, but state ethics law says a government official cannot engage in business with the government.
- In 2005, the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, then called the State Ethics Commission, fined Perdue after he used an airplane owned by his family business for campaign purposes and failed to report it.
After becoming secretary of agriculture, Perdue has filled the office with staff members who have ties to agribusiness and taken actions that support agribusiness and harm small farmers. They include:
- Kailee Tkacz, an advisor to Perdue and other U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials, is a former lobbyist for the Corn Refiners Association, a trade group that consists of the four biggest corn syrup producers in the United States.
- Rebeckah Adcock, who leads the deregulation team at the USDA, is a former pesticide industry lobbyist. While in office, she met with her former employer, CropLife America, the pesticide industry’s trade group.
- Under Perdue, the USDA has rolled back regulations on school lunches, exempting some processed foods from meeting whole grain standards, delaying a low-sodium limit and allowing schools to serve low-fat flavored milk. These new measures are less healthy for school children but more beneficial for the processed food industry.
- Perdue proposed the “America’s Harvest Box” of prepackaged food to reduce the cost and number of people on food stamps. The program would make it harder for recipients to obtain fresh food and would hurt food suppliers economically.