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August 14, 2008

Rotten Eggs

The basic workings of a democracy depend upon the integrity of its government. Adherence to the rule of law is a foundation stone upon which any civil society is built. It is especially vital that we as a nation keep elections clean—by allowing qualified citizens to vote, by not suppressing voting through intimidation or arcane rules, by not using the instruments of the state to influence elections, and by allowing proper tabulations of all votes cast.

Chicken face
© iStockphoto

It's for these reasons that I am so thoroughly disappointed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's approval of a $3 million egg industry advertising campaign in California by the American Egg Board between now and election day—the very period when the Proposition 2 campaign to phase out battery cages for laying hens (and also to phase out veal and gestation crates) is at high tide. Californians for Humane Farms, the political committee backing Prop 2 that HSUS actively supports, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco yesterday to challenge this federal action.

Through our Animal Protection Litigation department, we obtained correspondence dating from last November, after we launched the Prop 2 campaign, to indicate that the AEB approved a $3 million California appropriation to "supplement" an ongoing "campaign to defeat the measure" through the funding of "public relations and other projects." Federal law says "no funds collected by the Egg Board under the order shall in any manner be used for the purpose of influencing government policy or action." (See Rep. Earl Blumenauer's letter to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer asking the USDA to rescind its approval.)

One source says that the series of ads for this California campaign may have even been produced by the same public relations firm handling the No on Proposition 2 campaign. And it appears that they'll even have some of the same spokespersons, and use messaging from the very same script as the No on Prop 2 campaign.

The USDA and the AEB can advertise in any state but California between now and election day, to avoid the charge of an illegal political expenditure. And they can do so in 50 states after Nov. 4 without complaint from anyone. The only reason AEB and USDA would spend $3 million now is to augment the formal No on Proposition 2 campaign. And that is against the law, and it is highly unethical.

Today is a day I am deeply troubled by the actions of a federal government agency. But, as usual, we won't take this action or any action inimical to animals—and so corrosive to the workings of civil society—without a proportional response. Our attorneys will fight this federal action with every resource of the organization.

And on this day, I urge you to think about redoubling your commitment to passing Proposition 2. To win, with the factory farming industry and the federal government aligned against us, we need your financial support. Edmund Burke said it best, "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."

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