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HOG FARM STINK: Smells up Schaefer Senate campaign, Part 2

Special law favoring Senator's client may be challenged as unconstitutional
Continued from Part 1


COLUMBIA, 9/17/12 (Beat Byte) -- In May, State Senator Kurt Schaefer -- who represents constituents in Columbia and Boone County -- voted to approve a new law that offered a big helping hand to a single company, his ag giant client Smithfield Foods and its subsidiary, Premium Standard Farms.

"My law firm, Lathrop & Gage, has represented Premium Standard Farms (PSF) in suits since 2007, and I have assisted with some of those cases," Mr. Schaefer told the Heart Beat. Smithfield completed its acquisition of PSF in May 2007.

With Mr. Schaefer representing Smithfield in litigation surrounding its hog farm operations, critics are crying foul -- and not only about swine odor.

Mr. Schaefer, they say, has violated a fundamental ethical principle, letting a conflict of interest from the courthouse guide his judgment, instead of the needs of his statehouse constituents.

The ethical lapse may end up costing constituents statewide, as Mr. Schaefer's courthouse rivals prepare to challenge the law he voted to approve: portions of Senate Bill 631 (SB 631) exempting Smithfield Foods from a state prohibition against corporate farm takeovers in three northern Missouri counties.

"We will be challenging those laws on grounds that they are unconstitutional," said Charlie Speer, a Kansas City-based attorney. "More specifically, the law only favors one corporation and constitutes impermissible special legislation."

By mixing a courthouse rivalry with statehouse politics, the SB 631 Smithfield Foods Exemption has even become the butt of jokes around the Missouri state capitol, Speer told the Heart Beat. "The legislators themselves call it 'The Charlie Speer Bill'," he said. "That's the epitome of special legislation."

Speer successfully sued Smithfield and Premium Standard Farms (PSF), for unsanitary farming practices that harm surrounding landowners. Plaintiffs won $11 million. Other plaintiffs last week announced a "global settlement" of some 200 similar cases against PSF/Smithfield in the State of Missouri.
 
Following a $10,000 donation to a Republican State Senate election PAC led a Boone County constituent to blow the whistle about the special legislation. The PAC has donated $75,000 to Mr. Schaefer's re-election campaign since April.

"I am aware that Smithfield Foods has made contributions to a number of campaigns, including among others, Governor Nixon, Attorney General Koster, and the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee," Mr. Schaefer told the Heart Beat. "As with those other campaigns, Smithfield is only one of hundreds, if not thousands, of contributors."
 
The Senator, meanwhile, chalks up the controversy to "dirty tricks" from his opponent Mary Still's campaign.  But neither Mrs. Still nor Speer nor any of their representatives approached the Heart Beat with this story.

 

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