* This version includes a correction to the last paragraph.
We and our allies nearly defeated Amendment 1 yesterday in Missouri, with the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Pork Association, and others in Big Agriculture apparently getting the barest majority on their “right to farm” measure. There were 498,751 “yes” votes, or 50.1 percent, and there were 496,223 “no” votes, or 49.9 percent.
Republican state House and Senate lawmakers put the measure on the ballot, and they tried to doll it up to make it sound appealing to voters. Indeed, their early polling showed it had 70 percent support, largely because it had a feel-good ring to it.
Proponents also poured in more than a million dollars to push it, outspending our side by more than two to one. Politicians aligned with Big Agriculture ran around the state on their behalf, touting the merits of the measure, including Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster (who has also brought a lawsuit to try to overturn California’s ban on the sale of eggs that come from battery cages). Some Missouri politicians even donated to the Yes on 1 campaign from their own campaign accounts. They needn’t fret though – I’m quite sure their campaign coffers will be replenished by Big Agriculture soon.
It appears there were other questionable fundraising and spending activities by the "Yes on 1" campaign, and the biggest one was the possible illegal use of federal pork check-off dollars to promote Amendment 1. The Missouri Farmers Union and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center – two family farmer groups opposed to Amendment 1 – have formally requested that the USDA investigate the potentially illegal use of check-off funds by the Missouri Pork Association. The association and its affiliated political action committee gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the “Yes on 1” campaign, despite an IRS filing showing virtually no membership contributions from rank-and-file pig farmers. That IRS filing did reveal that the association received more than half a million dollars from the pork check-off program. The catch is that money cannot be used for any political or lobbying activity – that’s strictly forbidden. The Missouri Pork Association has some explaining to do.
Despite corporate agriculture’s advantages in money and ballot language and its having so many politicians doing its bidding, our coalition of humane advocates and family farmers just about won, even after the proponents started with a 40-point lead. The other side is losing hearts and minds, and there’s no way it can consider this a victory, except in the strictest legal sense.
I believe that animal protectionists have a working electoral majority in Missouri. We won both prior animal welfare ballot initiatives in the state – banning cockfighting in 1998 and cracking down on puppy mills in 2010. In the case of Amendment 1, it was a primary vote in an off-year election, and turnout was less than 25 percent. If the measure had been on the ballot in a general election, rather than in a primary, we would have prevailed. There’s still much apathy among the American electorate, and that’s in evidence most in our primary elections where more than three of four registered voters stay home.
It was heartening, however, to see so many Missouri voters who did turn out see through the deceptive, vague language, and to understand that this was a play by Big Agriculture to amend the state constitution in order to insulate itself from any future animal welfare, environmental and other standards. The “yes” crowd wants a free pass for its factory farms, puppy mills and captive hunting pens. Majorities of voters in 14 Missouri counties – including some rural counties – saw through this charade and said “no” to the corporate interests that harm animals, consumers, and family farms.
For many of Amendment 1’s proponents, it was all about stopping The HSUS from driving reform in the future. But in the process, we built a vibrant grassroots campaign, and we’ve formed a strong coalition in Missouri. We are stronger than ever in Missouri, and the demographic trends are with us. Our work there is not done, and we are emboldened by the awareness we’ve created and the support we’ve built.