R-CALF USA has asked Montana’s federal district court to declare the beef checkoff in 15 states unconstitutional. In a statement, R-CALF says its attorneys filed documents on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, contending that in each of the 15 states, the state beef councils are private corporations that have been keeping half of all the mandatory beef checkoff assessments collected within their states to fund their private speech.
The states named are: Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
R-CALF contends the practices of the 15 states violates the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from compelling cattle producers and other citizens to subsidize private speech.
“The remedy to this constitutional violation,” R-CALF’s statement says, “is to allow producers in those 15 states to choose whether or not to fund private corporations. If producers choose not to fund their private state councils, their money should go to the government to fund its work on behalf of ranchers, which the Supreme Court has held is constitutional. This now occurs in Montana where R-CALF USA was granted a preliminary injunction in June 2017.”
R-CALF USA and its members claim they are injured by the state beef council’s private speech, “because rather than promote consumption of domestically produced beef, which R-CALF USA believes will benefit its members, the councils promote beef regardless of how or where it was raised. The injury arises because the councils are not accountable to the public, meaning R-CALF USA cannot employ traditional lobbying techniques to advocate for change.”
The group also opposes the fact state beef councils send checkoff money to third-party entities “that are likewise not publicly accountable and that use the money to support the consolidation of the cattle and beef industry.”
“The beef checkoff is eliminating opportunities for U.S. cattle producers to remain profitable by promoting foreign beef as if it were equal to domestic beef and by supporting corporate efforts to consolidate and control our industry,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. “Our members said enough is enough and our plan is to put producers back in control of the checkoff, which our lawsuit helps accomplish.”
“The court should grant this motion and bring relief to ranchers in these fifteen states. Independent producers of beef are currently being compelled to subsidize the speech of multinational corporations regardless of their wishes,” said Public Justice Food Project Senior Attorney David Muraskin, who represents R-CALF USA.
“Hopefully the unfettered misuse of U.S. cattle producer’s checkoff dollars by the state beef councils, many of which are closely associated with NCBA affiliated state cattlemen’s associations that fought to repeal country of origin labeling for beef, will be a thing of the past,” said J. Dudley Butler.
Attorneys for R-CALF USA include lead counsel David Muraskin, a Food Project Attorney at Public Justice, J. Dudley Butler of Butler Farm and Ranch Law Group, PLLC, and Bill Rossbach of Rossbach Law, P.C. in Missoula, Montana.