Monday, March 02, 2015

Powerful Republican contributor Bruce Rastetter is the man behind the Iowa Agricultural Summit

Bruce Rastetter
One of the first big summits for Republican presidential hopefuls will occur on Saturday at the inaugural Iowa Agricultural Summit. The man behind the summit is Bruce Rastetter, who has not so quietly emerged as one of the biggest—and most powerful—donors of the state's Republican party, Mike Kilen reports for The Des Moines Register. The agribusiness entrepreneur and president of the Iowa Board of Regents has given more than $1.1 million in state political contributions since 2003 and has a close personal relationship with Republican Gov. Terry Branstard.

"Rastetter's name is synonymous with fights as a leader in three tender subject areas in Iowa—large-scale agriculture, ethanol production and education funding," Kilen writes. "The National Journal recently wrote about him with the headline, 'When This Man Calls, Republicans Come Running,' accompanied by a photograph of a herd of elephants."

"So why should he have any greater voice in choosing our elected officials than the regular Joe?" Kilen writes. Rastetter told Kilen, "Everyone can have an impact on our political system in different ways. I see a ton of activists who don't give significant dollars that still have a great impact. One of the reasons I give is to help those candidates be successful. I don't give to get access. There has never been a Bruce Rastetter bill in the Iowa Legislature that has benefited me. I always believe you support industry-wide incentives and the whole industry benefits."

While Rastetter has donated millions to state colleges and been outspoken against rising tuition costs, some have accused him of supporting big business at the expense of small farmers, Kilen writes. "Small farmers and environmental groups led fights against hog confinements, saying they fouled the air and land and made parts of rural Iowa uninhabitable. Rastetter was front and center of the fight. Hog confinements and their smelly manure spread around Iowa while Rastetter built wealth, said Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which owes much of its growth as a nonprofit activist group to burgeoning opposition to hog confinements."

"Rastetter 'destroyed the confidence in the corporate pork industry among Davis County residents,' said Francis Thicke, a former candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and a longtime advocate for sustainable farming practices," Kilen writes. Garry Klicker, whose land was adjacent to some of Heartland's confinements in Davis County, "said Rastetter held meetings that promised an increased tax base, productions with little smell and a rising price for local farmers' corn. 'Everything he told us was a lie,' he said, contending the confinements stunk so bad that he had to move to Colorado for health reasons and that Rastetter trucked most of his feed to Davis County from his own mills."

Rastetter countered by telling Kilen, "It's part of the reason I got into politics. What we were doing was more environmentally sound than what we were doing on the small farm I grew up on. Number one, we contained the manure, and two, we used it as a nutrient (spreading it on fields for fertilizer). Sure, there were odors associated with it. . . . It's part of modern agriculture." (Read more)

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