Bill to restrict checkoffs introduced in House

February 6, 2020

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives would impose extensive new audits and reporting requirements on generic promotion programs like the American Egg Board. It also would prohibit checkoff programs from contracting with any entity that engages in lobbying, even if the lobbying is completely separate from the use of checkoff funds. The bill, H.R. 5563, introduced by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), is a companion measure to legislation introduced last year by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

All checkoff programs are already prohibited from lobbying or paying others to do so, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently published extensive guidelines on that and many other policies. Under the proposed legislation, a checkoff program would be prohibited from working with an anti-hunger group like Feeding America or an education organization like the School Nutrition Association, since employees of these groups engage in lobbying. They do not, and cannot, lobby with checkoff funds, but under the proposed legislation, that would not matter.

Checkoff programs are audited already, but the bill would create two additional and separate audits, one by USDA’s Office of the Inspector General and another by the Government Accountability Office, that would cover essentially the same topics. The bill requires not only budgets but also all “disbursements of funds” by checkoff boards to be made public immediately. If read literally, the legislation seems to require that any time a board writes a check to any vendor, no matter how small, there would be separate public reporting of its amount, purpose, activities to be funded, the identity of the payee and “any other parties that may receive the disbursed funds.” The legislation does not distinguish between large disbursements and small ones, nor does it appear to allow one-time reporting of recurring expenses. Under a literal reading, checkoff boards would have to file separate public reports each month when they paid their office rent as an example. Other reports would be required for their monthly utility bills.

UEP has successfully opposed similar legislation in past Congresses, and the UEP Board voted to make opposition to anti-checkoff bills a priority again during the upcoming May UEP legislative meetings in Washington, D.C.