Hillary's Pick for Her Political Fixer in Iowa Is a Classic Illustration of America's Political Corporate Insider Problem
Press reports indicate that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce her run for president next month, setting off a 20-month election cycle.
Her first steps are to set up a campaign in the historic early primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire. Perhaps with an eye toward her third-place finish in 2008, Clinton's operation is moving swiftly to secure a political team in Iowa to create a base of operations to stave off any challengers.
Along those lines, the Washington Post published a long profile of Jerry Crawford, a long-time Iowa political hand who is serving as an adviser to Ready For Hillary, the super PAC supporting the former first lady's run for the White House. The profile focuses largely on personal details about Crawford, such as his love of the Kentucky Derby, but affirms that as a former Midwestern co-chair of Clinton's 2008 campaign, he's ready to take her all the way this time.
What the piece doesn't go into is that between Clinton's 2008 race and her likely entry into the presidential race again this year, Crawford has been busy serving a corporate clientele and even assisting Iowa Republicans—which should raise eyebrows for those worried Team Hillary is too tied to corporate America instead of Main Street.
Monsanto's Man In Iowa
Before joining Clinton's campaign in 2008, Crawford served in a variety of high-profile political roles. In addition to a variety of local positions, he served as the Iowa chair for the presidential campaigns of Mike Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry—each one the more conservative candidates in their Democratic presidential primaries.
So it was a natural fit for Crawford to sign up for the Hillary campaign. But after Clinton's 2008 loss, Crawford spent his days at Crawford Muaro, his law and lobbying firm. While there, he represented a variety of corporate clients, including Kraft and Altria (the parent company of Philip Morris USA). He also served as a lawyer for Jack DeCoster, a factory farm tycoon who infamously supplied eggs that led to a salmonella outbreak. His most prominent client, however, was Monsanto.
Monsanto, the agricultural and biotechnology corporation founded in Missouri, is known worldwide for its abuses against the environment and practices designed to crush farm competition. Iowa is a farming state, with agriculture making up a large share of its total economy.
The 2010 Agriculture Secretary election was particularly important for Monsanto; as one Iowa blogger noted, it holds “patents on most of the corn and soybeans grown in Iowa.” The company was also the subject of an antitrust investigation. The Democratic nominee for the spot, Francis Thicke, was a critic of Monsanto and a backer of antitrust actions against the big agricultural companies. Thus it wasn't long before Monsanto took aim at Thicke, allying itself to the Republican nominee and incumbent, Bill Northey.
When Crawford, working for Monsanto at the time, endorsed Northey, he touted his backing as evidence of “strong bipartisan support,” calling him a “veteran Democratic political insider.”
Although Francis Thicke picked up strong endorsements from progressives in the farm movement, such as food writer Michael Pollen, environmentalist Bill McKibben and former Texas Ag Commissioner and progressive writer Jim Hightower, he was defeated in his race against Northey, getting just 37 percent of the vote to his 63 percent. Monsanto ended up being Northey's eighth-largest direct contributor. His top supporter, the Iowa Farm Bureau, is allied to Monsanto.
Clinton and Biotechnology
Although Jerry Crawford was a co-chair of Clinton's 2008 campaign and is one of the organizers of Ready For Hillary, this does not necessarily mean Clinton shares his views on Big Agriculture. It is telling, however, that someone who worked as a hired gun for Monsanto to defeat a progressive Democrat is so enthusiastic about a potential Clinton presidency.
And it is worth noting that since leaving the State Department, Clinton has been an advocate of genetically modified crops and biotechnology like the techniques Monsanto has pioneered. In a paid speech at the 2014 Biotechnology Industry Organization, where she was introduced by former Clinton fundraiser and current Virginia Democratic governor Terry McAullife, Clinton offered support for the industry.
“I stand in favor of using seeds and products that have a proven track record....And to continue to try to make the case for those who are skeptical that they may not know what they're eating already. The question of genetically modified food or hybrids has gone on for many many years. And there is again a big gap between what the facts are and what perceptions are,” she said to applause. She went on to defend drought-resistant genetically modified technology Monsanto has developed.
There are legitimate debates to be had about Big Agriculture and the benefits of the genetically modified crops that Monsanto specializes in. But it's difficult to have fair and honest debates in a climate where candidates are directly courting the corporations that benefit. Jerry Crawford is a symptom of a bigger problem—the inability of our presidential candidates to build a political operation without incorporating powerful corporate interests from the very outset.
Watch Clinton's full talk below: