Special Interests Spent $173.5 Million On The 2008 Farm Bill

As Congress moves toward passing a 2012 Farm Bill that would, among other things, deprive millions of Americans of food stamps, gut food safety protections, and prematurely force genetically engineered crops onto the market, a new report follows the money poured into the last Farm Bill.

Food & Water Watch, a food safety non-profit, estimates that special interests including agribusinesses, commodity groups, and food manufacturers spent $173.5 million on the 2008 Farm Bill — more than $500,000 a day during the 110th Congress. This vast sum makes the 2008 Farm Bill one of the decade’s most well-financed legislative fights, more than health care reform ($120 million by the Center for Public Integrity’s estimate) and comparable to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law ($250 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics).

According to the report, many of the lobbyists were former politicians:

Special interests hired an army of well-connected lobbyists to press their case with Congress, including 45 former members of Congress, at least 461 former congressional and executive branch staffers (including 86 that worked for former agriculture committee members or the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and a host of K Street firms.

The former House Agriculture Committee Chairman and Ranking Members that oversaw the 2002 Farm Bill, Larry Combest (R-Texas) and Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas), each received more than $1 million in fees to lobby on the Farm Bill. In 2007, nine of the top 10 Washington firms lobbied on the Farm Bill including Patton Boggs, Akin Gump and Barbour Griffith & Rogers.

Far from being limited to agriculture and trade groups, Wall Street also got in on the spending frenzy, dropping $10.8 million on commodity futures trading rules. Energy interests topped that sum, with $23 million from the fossil fuel, ethanol and biodiesel industries.

While half the money was spent on core farm policies, much of it went to inserting a slew of sweet deals into the bill. For instance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) inserted a tax break for thoroughbred racehorses estimated to cost $126 million over a decade after the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Churchill Downs spent $136,000 on lobbying.

Since the drafting of the 2012 Farm Bill started, the money flow has only intensified. According to CQ’s First Street database, 1,063 organizations reported to be lobbying on the farm bill from the beginning of 2011 through the first quarter of 2012, on track to surpass the 1,200 groups that lobbied in 2008 by the end of the year.