August 28, 2012
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
Sent via facsimile and U.S. Mail: 202-720-6314
Re: R-CALF USA’s Demand for the Immediate and Permanent Suspension of all Contracts Between the Beef Checkoff and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
R-CALF USA hereby demands that you fulfill your statutory and regulatory duty to enforce the Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 (Act) and the Beef Promotion and Research Order (Order), which together govern the Beef Checkoff Program (Beef Checkoff), against the ongoing, unlawful expenditure of producers’ Beef Checkoff funds by immediately ordering the permanent suspension of any and all contracts between the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Beef Checkoff.
For longer than two years: beginning May 24, 2010, and subsequently on Aug. 4, 2010; Dec. 14, 2010 (to Deputy Secretary Merrigan); Jan. 17, 2011; Jan. 20, 2011; Feb. 3, 2011; Feb. 28, 2011; and Aug. 22, 2011, R-CALF USA sent formal letters, replete with researched evidence of NCBA’s unlawful use of Beef Checkoff funds, that urged you to fulfill your statutory and regulatory responsibility by immediately suspending all contracts between the NCBA and the Beef Checkoff.
During that longer than two-year span, you abrogated your statutory and regulatory duty to preserve the integrity of the Beef Checkoff for U.S. cattle producers, despite your receipt of evidence from us that demonstrate the Beef Checkoff is being unlawfully abused under your watch. Instead, you and your Department have played the role of NCBA’s patsy. You have continued to allow the Beef Checkoff to unlawfully award tens of millions of dollars to NCBA, which enabled that organization to continue its unlawful use of Beef Checkoff funds to successfully undermine your Administration’s stated goals concerning country-of-origin labeling (COOL) and the competition rule proposed by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), just to name two.
Because you shirked your responsibilities under the Act and Order and to U.S. cattle producers, a lawsuit was necessarily filed against you by an R-CALF USA member, Mike Callicrate. That lawsuit, Michael Callicrate v. USDA et al., makes nearly all the allegations we made to you during the past two years; references nearly all the evidence we provided you during the past two years; and, it seeks the same remedy we urged you to grant our industry during the past two years.
R-CALF USA is outraged by your inaction – particularly following your receipt of our evidence that showed NCBA had misappropriated hundreds of thousands of cattle producers’ Beef Checkoff funds – and fully supports the merits of the Michael Callicrate v. USDA et al. lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed against you because you failed to stop the NCBA from unlawfully using Beef Checkoff funds to continually undermine the policy goals of independent U.S. cattle producers, which has effectively reduced their economic opportunities. A summary of the lawsuit that highlights the meritorious arguments R-CALF USA fully supports is attached.
We demand that you, by your own fruition, immediately put a stop to the NCBA’s ongoing abuse of the Beef Checkoff by fully implementing the entire remedy sought in the lawsuit, which is the remedy we have unsuccessfully sought from you for longer than two years. We are calling on you to act, and to act appropriately, without the lawsuit having to proceed any further.
Individual cattle producers should not have to file a lawsuit to ask a federal court to order you to enforce statutes and regulations that you know are being violated. And, you should not be assigning your responsibilities to individuals and federal courts in hopes that they will do what you lacked the courage to do.
As part of our demand we call your attention to an allegation that R-CALF USA did not previously articulate, but which is contained in the lawsuit. That allegation is that the “prohibition on the use of checkoff funds applies equally to any trade/producer organizations funded wholly or in part by a particular board or contractors to the board.” We believe this language expresses the clear intent of both the Act and Order as it unequivocally bars any trade association that may receive Beef Checkoff funds from also engaging in activities to influence governmental action or policy. In other words, no policy-oriented trade association can continue its lobbying activities if it is a recipient of Beef Checkoff funds. Your Department must initiate a rulemaking to make it crystal clear that organizations that contract with the Beef Checkoff are barred from engaging in lobbying activities.
Your Department’s August 24 announcement indicating that you are now expanding the contracting authority for the Beef Checkoff is void of any mention that recipients of Beef Checkoff funds cannot engage in lobbying activities. Essentially, your Department’s announcement suggests that you intend to perpetuate the ongoing, unlawful use of Beef Checkoff funds by authorizing groups in addition to NCBA to compete directly with policy groups like NCBA for available Beef Checkoff funds. This is unconscionable.
We trust that you will carefully consider our demand and choose to comply in full. Doing so will negate the need for R-CALF USA to formally join in a complaint against you.