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A group of state legislators in Montana have come up with a truly-innovative reform dealing with the influence that corporate lobbyists have over legislative committees. Rather than having those lobbyists crawling all over the capitol trying to influence committee action, why not simply have committee members go to the lobbyists?
It seemed to be such a neat idea that Montana’s senate agriculture committee gave it a go in March. At issue was a bill affecting such biotech seed giants as Monsanto, which frequently bully farmers by accusing them of illegally using the companies’ genetically-altered seeds. The bill would merely require that seed corporations get permission from farmers or a court order before trampling into their fields to run tests.
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The bill had passed the house and was headed to senate passage – until Monsanto and other biotech interests summoned the ag committee to come to them. Rather than testify at a public hearing, the corporate powers held a closed-door session with five of nine committee members over dinner at the exclusive Montana Club. Of course, dinner and drinks were put on the corporate tab.
Not that this should seem at all unusual or suspicious, said the committee chairman. “The lobbyists wanted to inform the committee of their concerns, and that’s all it was about,” he shrugged. And a spokesman for the biotech corporations was just as dismissive: “We weren’t buying anybody’s votes,” he sniffed.
Really? Then why all the sneakyness? Why not express your concerns in public, like everyone else had to do? Why didn’t the senators pay their own tabs? And why should we trust anything that comes out of such a corrupt process?
Shortly after their dinner and private dance with lobbyists behind the club’s doors, the Montana senate agriculture committee voted 6-3 to kill the bill.
“Monsanto courts Senate committee at private dinner,” www.greatfallstribune.com, March 23, 2009.
“Committee tables seed bill amid private-dinner controversy,” www.greatfallstribune.com, March 26, 2009.