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HOG FARM STINK: Smells up Schaefer Senate campaign, Part 1

Did State Senator breach ethics to help law firm client?
COLUMBIA, 9/12/12 (Beat Byte) -- Imagine you had a lawyer who could not only take your case to a court of law, but could change the law in your favor.

An attorney who could say, "My client didn't violate that law, your Honor. Because I voted to repeal that law during my second job -- as a Missouri state lawmaker."
If you're the world's largest hog farmer Smithfield Foods, you may have just such a lawyer in Columbia-area State Senator Kurt Schaefer.
Not only has Mr. Schaefer represented the ag giant in multimillion-dollar lawsuits as an attorney at Lathrop and Gage, but earlier this year he voted to retroactively exempt Smithfield from a law it had presumably been violating since 2007.
Cleverly worded and tucked away in an "omnibus" or catch-all 2012 agriculture bill called SB-631, the exemption helps Smithfield circumvent a long-time prohibition against corporate farm takeovers, RSMo 350.015.

Schaefer's vote is an ethics breach of the worst kind, critics say. 
"Senator Schaefer needs to decide if he represents Boone County -- or if he is a lobbyist employed by Lathrop and Gage on behalf of Smithfield Foods," said a Boone County constituent not connected to the Still campaign or Smithfield litigation.  He tipped the Heart Beat off to the story on condition his name be left off the record.  "Senator Schaefer should abstain from voting on matters of benefit to a specific client."
But Mr. Schaefer dismisses the controversy as little more than politics.   His frequent opponent in litigation against Smithfield Foods, Kansas City-based attorney Charlie Speer, "is the largest contributor to Mary Still's campaign who is not related to her," he told the Heart Beat.  

State Representative Still opposes Mr. Schaefer in the November election for his Senate seat.  Speer works for the Center to Expose and Close Animal Factories
Pesky Prohibition
A June 27 $10,000 donation from Smithfield Foods to the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee -- a Republican PAC which has donated $75,000 to Mr. Schaefer's campaign since March -- alerted legislative watchdogs that something was up.
Aware Senator Schaefer was Smithfield's attorney, they probed recent legislation that might impact the company. They found Senate Bill (SB) 631, "an act to repeal" five Missouri laws and in their place, enact "thirteen new laws," all related to agriculture.
Section after section addressing education, grain sales, livestock exhibitions, and even "agri-tourism," SB-631 doesn't look like a mega-corporate handout.  That's one reason the law is so galling, critics say.
Couched in the needs of smaller farmers, SB-631 strong arms the demands of one big farmer in two sections aptly entitled CORPORATIONS OWNING FARMLAND.
The act ended a prohibition on corporate pork production as of September 28, 2007 in Daviess, Gentry, or Worth counties, those sections explain.
A special exemption for a specific type of corporate farm in three specific Missouri counties as of a specific month in a specific year.   Why all the specifics?
Smithfield Foods moved into the area in May 2007 with the acquisition of Premium Standard Farms (PSF), to operate hog farms.   
A corporate farming newcomer in Daviess, Gentry, and Worth counties, Smithfield ostensibly broke the law, which reads in part, "No corporation not already engaged in farming shall engage in farming; nor shall any corporation, directly or indirectly, acquire, or otherwise obtain an any title to agricultural land in this state."
With his fellow Senators, Mr. Schaefer changed all that by exempting his client from the pesky prohibition, all the way back to 2007.   Governor Nixon signed SB 631 -- and the Smithfield Foods exemption -- this July.

Question of integrity
Though it's not the first time legislators have carved out corporate farming exemptions -- Putnam, Mercer, and Sullivan counties are also on the list -- Mr. Schaefer's support of the exemption for Smithfield Foods has observers questioning his integrity -- and his commitment to constituents without Smithfield-sized wallets.
Why didn't he abstain from voting on SB-631? Did he breach conflict of interest standards by representing his client, not only before the Bar, but before the Missouri State Legislature?
In recent years, Mr. Schaefer has served as Smithfield's lawyer in Hanes v Smithfield Foods, et. al. in DeKalb County; Austin v. Howerton, et. al. in Henry County; and Guthrie v. Cargill Pork, et. al. in Audrain County.
Many of the cases involve damages caused by the rank odor of a hog farm. Some 200 similar lawsuits have been filed or settled.

Although he freely admits representing Smithfield, Mr. Schaefer is convinced the controversy is nothing more than the latest helping of political stew served up by opponents like Mary Still.

"The difference between me and Mary is that I strongly support all agriculture, which is Missouri's largest industry, and she supports plaintiffs' lawyers trying to make money off of it," Mr. Schaefer told the Heart Beat. "I've voted on many agricultural bills, and as far as I know, I've never voted on a bill that impacts any one agricultural interest differently than agricultural interests in general."
[Edited.  Ed. Note: This publication had no contact with the Still campaign nor any representatives thereof].


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