(Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
By Emma Loop
WASHINGTON — The Minnesota-based food manufacturing giant best known for its sugary cereals and snacks is slowly expanding its lobbying operation in the nation’s capital as a Democratic-led Congress reviews sweeping food policy legislation.
General Mills spent $360,000 on lobbying in the first quarter this year — nearly half of what it spent in all of 2021, and more than half of what it spent in the three years prior, according to public disclosures.
This year the company has also doubled the number of lobbyists representing its interests in Washington from three to six. Among them are veteran Democrats with ties to Capitol Hill and the Obama administration.
The figures suggest General Mills is fortifying its government influence operations after several years of reduced activity, and comes as lawmakers in D.C. craft a food and agriculture bill that will set policy for years to come and spend hundreds of billions of dollars.
What’s the point of the lobbying cash? Tough to say. A spokesperson for the company declined to answer specific questions about its lobbying activity.
But one likely target: Congressional committees have already started holding hearings on the Farm Bill, which lawmakers need to reauthorize every five years, and covers everything from crop insurance to food assistance programs. The last Farm Bill was enacted in 2018, meaning Congress is working to pass another one for 2023.
General Mills reported spending $330,000 on in-house lobbying in this year’s first quarter, and a similar amount at the end of last year. That lobbying was directed towards the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce, and involved a range of issues, including “regenerative agriculture to mitigate climate change” and “anti-dumping duty on raw honey.”
General Mills has also used both its in-house operation and a new outside firm to lobby Congress and the USDA on federal nutrition programs. That firm, Washington-based Olsson, Frank, Weeda, Terman & Matz, PC, reported making $30,000 lobbying for General Mills on “[h]ealth and nutrition standards in food assistance programs” in this year’s first quarter, and recently reported another $40,000 in income for the second quarter.
The firm, which specializes in the food and agriculture industry, lists three of its lobbyists as representing General Mills. One of them is Phil Karsting, who served as head of the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service under former president Barack Obama and supported President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign. Another lobbyist, Roger Szemraj, worked as an aide to Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and lists Farm Bills and food assistance programs as areas of expertise.
A General Mills spokesperson provided a link to a “Civic involvement” page on its website. That page lists some past lobbying efforts, including “[s]upporting strong U.S. school nutrition standards, including encouraging USDA to balance meal program flexibility and efficiency while ensuring Dietary Guidelines recommendations are followed, especially related to whole grain-rich offerings” and “[s]upporting flexibilities in USDA food and nutrition programs to ensure full benefit access […] during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Representatives for the House and Senate Agriculture committees, which handle the Farm Bill, did not respond to requests for comment.
Until the recent uptick, General Mills’ lobbying efforts appeared to be declining after a peak in 2014, when it spent more than $2.7 million on influence efforts. It had spent millions on lobbying in the two years before, and in 2012, had 11 lobbyists.
Around that time, General Mills appears to have seen a significant drop in its business with the federal government. Up until 2012, the company was taking in around $200 million each year from the Department of Defense for food products.
In 2011, the United States officially ended the war in Iraq, which at its peak saw more than 150,000 US troops stationed in the country.
Here’s a look at General Mills and its lobbying activity in 2022:
- Annual revenue: $18.9 billion
- Chairman and CEO: Jeff Harmening
- Number of employees: 35,000
- 2022 lobbying spending so far: $400,000
Here are the people who lobbied the federal government for General Mills in 2022, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics and lobbying disclosure forms:
Money to Congress
Here are the top 10 federal recipients of campaign cash from General Mills’ political action committee or company employees giving $200 or more, according to the Center for Responsive Politics:
- Stand for America PAC: $5,000
- Rep. Angie Craig D-Minn.: $3,510
- Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn.: $2,760
- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Az.: $2,500
- Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Il.: $2,500
- Candidate Brent Centers, R-Ohio: $2,500
- Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich.: $2,500
- Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y.: $2,500
- DNC Services Corp: $1,952
- National Republican Senatorial Committee: $1,784
Here’s the party split of federal recipients of campaign cash from General Mills’ political action committee or company employees giving $200 or more, according to the Center for Responsive Politics:
About this story
The author: Emma Loop is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter focusing on national security, finance, and politics. She has worked at the Windsor Star, Ottawa Citizen, and BuzzFeed News, where she was a member of the FinCEN Files reporting team that was named a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting.
This story was originally published by Minnesota Reformer. It is part of an occasional series looking at Minnesota companies’ lobbying presence in Washington. Previous editions have included 3M and Cargill.
Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: [email protected]. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.
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