The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

What “Big Daddy” Unruh Would Say About “Big Sugar”

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The late Jesse Unruh – the colorful former Speaker of the California State Assembly and supposedly nicknamed “Big Daddy” either by bombshell Raquel Welch or after Tennessee Williams’ patriarch in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (depending on which urban legend you prefer) – was famous for many things, not the least of which was his skillful wielding of power as a Democrat firebrand in California politics.  But two, equally colorful quotes – each about the influence of money in politics – are particularly memorable.

Unruh is credited with stating that “money is the mother’s milk of politics.”  That must be why sugar growers, who represent one percent (1%) of the value of all commodities combined, have political action committees (PACs) that contribute 24% of the agriculture-oriented PAC contributions to members of Congress.  Just as their political contributions outpace their share of the commodity market, these sugar-growing interests, whether beet farms or cane plantations, are less pervasive than you might otherwise think:  they can be found in about 42 Congressional districts nationwide – not quite 10% of the total number of vote-casting Representatives.  To put it another way, some 90% of the Congressional districts have no sugar growers at all.

But a second, more provocative Unruh saying holds that, “if you can’t drink a lobbyist’s whiskey, take his money, sleep with his women and still vote against him in the morning, you don’t belong in politics.”  Perhaps the sugar lobbies should learn from this cautionary quote.  As sugar reformers have gained steam in recent debates on the Farm Bill in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the “Big Sugar” interests have begun to cry foul, complaining that the sugar-using industries are out-spending them.  In Erik Wasson’s item in The Hill last week, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance claimed that his group was outspent by the Coalition for Sugar Reform (CSR), citing member companies’ total expenditures – as if the vast majority of those dollars were dedicated solely to this single issue.  At the same time, the spokesman neglected to mention that the sugar lobbies care only about their preferential treatment in the farm bill each time that it is considered.

Jennifer Cummings, the CSR’s spokeswoman, countered that “the folks that lobby for them, they solely focused on protecting the sugar program. Those opposed to the sugar program spend a lot of lobbying dollars on other things.  It is misleading to suggest that they were outspent. Comparing budgets, it is really an apples to oranges comparison.”

Sounds like “Big Sugar” has simply run headlong into “Big Daddy” Unruh’s dictum.  No matter how much money the sugar lobbyists spend, conscientious legislators, who recognize bad policy when they see it, are increasingly more emboldened to vote against them.

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