- The 20 top food industry associations have contributed $33.7 million to federal candidates since 2007, with three of them — the National Restaurant Association ($5.5 million), Consumer Brands Association ($1.3 million), and American Beverage Association ($1.2 million) — accounting for almost 25% of the total, according to a report from nonprofit Feed the Truth.
- The organization also found that since 2008, these 20 groups spent $303.2 million on lobbying federal agencies and lawmakers. The Consumer Brands Association ($60 million), American Beverage Association ($41.8 million), and National Restaurant Association ($38.4 million) accounted for almost 50% of these lobbying dollars.
- Feed The Truth, which was started by Kind founder Daniel Lubetzky, called for changes to protect consumers, including ending the “revolving door” between government and industry; preventing officials hired by the Biden administration from having affiliations with trade organizations or major food companies; and preventing members of Congress from accepting campaign contributions from industries they regulate.
The Feed The Truth report doesn't hold back on trade groups it claims spend big money donating to political campaigns or lobbyists to promote their causes on Capitol Hill while also allegedly putting consumers at risk.
The 41-page report went into detail on the political activity of the National Restaurant Association, American Beverage Association and Consumer Brands Association, outlining their stance on various legislative measures, top financial corporate backers within their respective industries, key leadership and their employment backgrounds, and the top recipients in Congress of industry cash.
"The food industry seeks to conceal the depth of its influence by funding multiple trade associations that market misleading information under the guise of consumer empowerment while using its vast resources to shape policy," the report said. "This study unmasks how a handful of the world's largest food corporations bankroll a few of the country's largest trade associations to bend our democracy to their will."
Regardless of the allegations, spending on lobbyists and political contributions have long come under fire in Washington, whether it's in food or other industries like defense or environmental regulations. Feed The Truth aimed to show the size of the food industry's influence when it compared its spending with that of the energy and natural resources industry, which contributed approximately $195 million during the 2020 election cycle. And in the same period, the food industry contributed about four times more than the defense industry to political committees.
According to the report, the NRA is the second largest food industry funder of political campaigns behind the Farm Credit Council. Contributions, however, fell to a low in 2020 of $438,000 — down from more than $600,000 two years prior.
In the case of political contributions, there is growing evidence that the current climate is discouraging companies from donating money. A review by Eater of campaign donation spending by the United States' top 10 fast food companies last fall found that none of the CEOs or PACs had donated to either presidential campaign.
The report also revealed the NRA’s lobbying expenses went toward changing or repealing the Affordable Care Act, among other efforts.
In a response to the report, Sean Kennedy, EVP of public affairs for the NRA, said, "We have had ongoing engagement with policymakers across the political spectrum on how best to preserve and rebuild our industry. Our political action committee provides financial support for elected officials who support an agenda that will advance restaurant operators and their employees. We will continue to fully comply with all disclosure and transparency requirements and will press forward on behalf of our nation’s second-largest private employer."
In January, McDonald's announced it suspended political donations in the wake of the violent protests at the U.S Capitol. Still, even if companies may be less willing to donate money to political candidates, it doesn't mean they are content to just sit on the sidelines. The Capitol protests and last summer's Black Lives Matter movement showed companies are more willing to speak out on political issues.
With consumers looking at the values of the companies they purchase goods and services from to make sure they align with their own beliefs, restaurant companies are left to balance the interests of those who buy their products with those who work in Congress or lobby on their behalf — a big challenge for multibillion-dollar corporations when the causes don't always align