Supporters of a bill limiting nuisance lawsuits against farmers deny they support the legislation because of the financial support they receive from a corporate hog farm.
Rep. Chris Kelly, a Democrat from Columbia, leveled the allegation during heated House floor debate on the issue. Kelly accused supporters of unduly interfering in the judicial system on behalf of agricultural corporations.
“Why, gentleman is it necessary for us to place our thumb on the scale of justice when the scale of justice has worked for 401 years on this exact issue?” Kelly asked during floor debate. “Oh, I know why, because Morgan Stanley (and) Smithfield have big pockets.”
Kelly made reference to investment banker Morgan Stanley, a major stakeholder in Smithfield Foods of Virginia which owns Premium Standard Farms of Princeton, Missouri, the huge corporate hog farm in northern Missouri.
Kelly’s fellow Columbia Democrat, Representative Mary Still, also questioned the motivation behind the legislation.
“Once again, we see efforts to sacrifice the common good, the will of the people, for those that give the most to our candidates and those economic giants,” Still stated.
Still told the Missourinet in an interview that the issue should be handled locally, not on a statewide basis.
House Speaker Steven Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, rejected the accusation.
“If I hear another accusation like that on the House floor, I should have gaveled them down. It’s inappropriate,” Tilley told reporters who asked about his reaction to the charge. “If they’ve got facts to prove it, they need to file a complaint with the Ethics Committee. I’ll refer it and we’ll immediately look at it.”
We asked Tilley if he favored the legislation, because of donations.
“Absolutely not, absolutely not, I couldn’t even tell you if I received a check from Smithfield,” Tilley said.
Rural lawmakers claim nuisance lawsuits could ruin Missouri agriculture and they must be limited.
The sponsor of HB209, Rep. Casey Guernsey, a Republican from Bethany, responded that he makes no secret he supports Premium Standard Farms. PSF employs more than 2,000 workers in job starved northern Missouri. But Guernsey flatly rejected any suggestion that he sponsors the legislation, because PSF provides campaign contributions.
“I’m a 7th generation farmer,” Guernsey told reporters after the flood debate. “This legislation is aimed toward protecting every farmer, regardless of size, whether it is a family farmer like my family’s operation or those who are larger than us.”
Guernsey’s political committee, Citizens for Guernsey, received a $1,000 contribution from Smithfield Foods in 2010, according to paperwork filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
As for Kelly, returned to the House floor the next day to apologize for his inference.
“For me to imply that my friend from Harrison (County) ran the bill because of contributions was an error of judgment and of thoughtfulness on my part,” Kelly told colleagues from the House floor.
Kelly said such allegations can easily be made after a glance at any representative’s campaign donor list.
“I want to walk way back from suggesting that the gentleman from Harrison ran the bill, because of contributions,” Kelly stated. “I do not believe that and I should not have said that.”
The bill has passed the House. It now sits in the Senate.