The federal district court in Montana granted R-CALF USA’s motion to expand its beef checkoff program lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to include at least 13 states in addition to Montana.
The district court in Montana previously granted, and the appellate court recently upheld, a preliminary injunction temporarily stopping the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from violating the U.S. Constitution by compelling cattle producers in Montana to pay for the private speech of the private Montana Beef Council without first obtaining consent from producers.
R-CALF USA requested the court to expand the case to include these additional states in which producers are similarly required to pay for the private speech of their respective private beef councils without their consent.
Today’s ruling on R-CALF USA’s motion does not apply the temporary injunction in effect in Montana to the additional states. Instead, it allows R-CALF USA to proceed with its original case in which it seeks a permanent injunction against the USDA for violating the Constitution. If successful, the permanent injunction would likely cover cattle producers in each of the new states.
The court granted the USDA 14 days to file an answer to R-CALF USA’s complaint and the case now proceeds with the additional states.
Under the preliminary injunction in effect in Montana, cattle producers can individually decide if they want half the mandatory assessments collected from them to be spent by the private Montana Beef Council or all of it sent to the beef checkoff program’s Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), where it is subject to governmental fiscal controls.
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said the state beef councils have been sending about $10 million in checkoff funds each year directly to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a political lobbying group, to fund that group’s Federation of State Beef Councils, and those monies are not subject to the same fiscal controls imposed on the CBB.
“By redirecting their money to the CBB rather than to their state beef councils, cattle producers can reduce the amount of money now flowing to the NCBA under the group’s pay-to-play scheme, which we believe is a form of money laundering,” said Bullard.
Bullard added that if R-CALF USA’s lawsuit is successful, cattle producers in Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin will all have their constitutional rights protected and will no longer be compelled to subsidize private or corporate speech.
Attorneys for R-CALF USA include lead counsel David Muraskin, a Food Project Attorney at Public Justice, J. Dudley Butler, of the Farm and Ranch Law Group, and Bill Rossbach of Rossbach Law, P.C. in Missoula, Montana.