An Iowa-based organization dedicated to combating “the radical animal rights movement” and led by a former Missouri Republican senator’s chief of staff has launched a new super PAC, according to paperwork filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The Protect the Harvest Political Action Committee told the elections regulator that it “intends to raise funds in unlimited amounts” to call for the election or defeat of federal candidates.
Which politicos will be targeted, however, is still unclear.
Neither the super PAC’s treasurer, Brian Klippenstein, nor its attorney, Mark Roth, responded to requests for comment from the Center for Public Integrity.
Super PACs are legally allowed to solicit unlimited contributions to produce political advertisements — so long as their spending is not coordinated with any candidates’ campaigns.
Klippenstein currently serves as the executive director of Protect the Harvest, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit established in 2011 to educate the public about “the benefits of farming, ranching and hunting” and to advocate “for the right to conduct such activities.”
The nonprofit may engage in politics, although federal law mandates that influencing elections may not be its primary purpose.
On its website, Protect the Harvest warns that “the animal rights movement in America, led by the Humane Society of the United States, has evolved into a wealthy and successful attack group determined to end the consumption of meat, threaten consumer access to affordable food, eliminate hunting, outlaw rodeos and circuses and even ban animal ownership (including pets) altogether.”
That's "baloney," said Joe Maxwell, the Humane Society of the United States' vice president of outreach and engagement. He said his organization is "leading efforts to ensure that we have good stewards of the land and the animals on our farms."
Protect the Harvest, Maxwell asserted, is "nothing but a front group" that is "in bed with industrialized agriculture."
Previously, Klippenstein spent 26 years on Capitol Hill working for Missouri Republicans, including Sens. Roy Blunt and Kit Bond — the latter for whom he served as chief of staff for five years, according to Klippenstein’s online biography.
For his part, Roth is also listed as the registered agent and incorporator of Protect the Harvest, according to Iowa business records. Millionaire businessman Forrest Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil Products, serves as Protect the Harvest’s president.
Tax records show Protect the Harvest raised about $927,000 between October 2011 and December 2012. A report detailing its 2013 finances is not expected to be filed with the Internal Revenue Service until later this year.
As a social welfare nonprofit, Protect the Harvest is not required to publicly disclose its donors.
FEC records indicate, however, that Lucas Oil Products contributed $200,000 to Protect the Harvest in 2012 to fund advertisements critical of Iowa Democrat Christie Vilsack, who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Republican Rep. Steve King.
American Action Network, the social welfare nonprofit led by former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, also contributed $100,000 to the group sometime between July 2012 and June 2013, according to its annual tax return.
And a group called Missouri Farmers Care — which says its mission is to "solicit contributions to support education and advocacy for Missouri agriculture" — also donated $35,000 Protect the Harvest in 2012.
Documents list Dale Ludwig, the longtime executive director of the Missouri Soybean Association, as the treasurer of Missouri Farmers Care and as a director of Protect the Harvest. Jackie Klippenstein, Brian's wife and a lobbyist for the Dairy Farmers of America, is also listed as one of the 30 members of Missouri Farmers Care.
Protect the Harvest’s super PAC arm will be required to disclose its funders to the FEC.
While Brian Klippenstein has financially supported Republicans such as 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and House Speaker John Boehner in the past, he has not made any contributions to Iowa politicians this election cycle, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of FEC records. Nor has Lucas.
Last year, Roth, the attorney, contributed $1,000 to businessman Mark Jacobs, who is seeking to become the Republican Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate this year.
Polls show Jacobs trailing state Sen. Joni Ernst ahead of the GOP's June 3 primary.
Additionally, Protect the Harvest itself has endorsed a Missouri ballot measure, backed by the Missouri Farm Bureau, which would amend the state’s constitution to guarantee that “the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed.”
Protect the Harvest backed a similar — and successful — ballot measure in North Dakota in 2012.
Critics argue “right to farm” laws, which have been supported by the board of the conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council, could impede attempts to regulate genetically modified crops and may benefit large, agricultural corporations, not family farmers.
"If right to farm would pass," said Maxwell, of the Humane Society, "it will allow foreign corporations and big agriculture corporations to do whatever they want in Missouri's countryside."