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McCain vs. The Ag Interests

POSTED: 03:23 PM ET, 10/17/2008 by The Editors

Farmers and food processors have given Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) more than twice as much money as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), but they may have second thoughts about that after he proposed taking an axe to two programs that are sacrosanct in farm country, Washington Post contract writer Dan Morgan reports.

Asked during Wednesday night's presidential debate where he would cut the budget, McCain singled out federal assistance to the Midwest's booming ethanol industry and a $200 million-a-year program that promotes agricultural exports.

Obama strongly supports government incentives for ethanol. And last year he joined 10 other senators calling for expansion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Market Access Program (MAP), which provides matching funds to non-profit U.S. agricultural trade associations, cooperatives and small business groups "to overcome trade barriers and build export markets overseas."

Recipients use the grants to advertise their products on buses and in stores abroad, attend trade shows, do market research and fight trademark violations. But Citizens Against Government Waste has called MAP "a classic example of corporate welfare."

In his run for the White House, McCain has received $861,000 from donors connected to crop production and basic processing, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Obama has pulled in $361,000.

In highlighting his opposition to the MAP program at Wednesday's debate, McCain may have risked the ire of some of these supporters, including ones in battleground states.

Among groups receiving MAP funds in 2008 were the Florida Department of Citrus ($5.9 million); the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin ($351,000); the Cranberry Marketing Committee ($1.6 million), which has members in Michigan, Minnesota and Washington as well as New England.

The cotton and meat industries -- centered in southern and western states crucial to the GOP -- were the two largest recipients of MAP funds. In California, money went to organizations representing growers of strawberries, walnuts, cling peaches, pears, kiwifruit and pistachios.

Elimination of the program would hit the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, in the home state of McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The Institute got $5 million from MAP to promote exports in 2008.

Sunkist Growers, Inc., representing citrus and vegetable growers in California and McCain's home state of Arizona, received $4.2 million.

"We've tried to explain the reasons behind the program and what it means to us, but he just doesn't believe the government should be doing anything like this," said Sunkist senior vice president Mike Wootton.

"With limited budgets, and the fact that U.S. products are the best in the world and made by the best workers, we don't need to be spending money on this kind of program," said McCain spokesman Robert Fischer. "The fact that some Arizona producers participate is proof that John McCain will fight for taxpayers and not for parochial interests."

By The Editors |  October 17, 2008; 3:23 PM ET In the News
Previous: Renzi Claims Agents Tapped GOP Calls | Next: Picks of the Week: DNA Exonerations, Pork Spending and Mistress Pay-Offs


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