More check-off misappropriations are discovered
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association urged the Cattlemen’s Beef Board to refocus its attention on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board Roles and Responsibilities Committee’s recommended changes to Beef Board policy and procedures. In light of a report that recent charges of misconduct brought by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) against the Cattlemen’s Beef Board leadership have been resolved, the Beef Board is urged to address the issue of check-off governance, according to a June 21 U.S. Cattlemen’s Association press release. The ongoing compliance review of NCBA now shows a total of $305,365 in check-off misappropriations for fiscal years 2008-10, according to an update released by the Beef Board last week. On June 8, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board attorneys sent a response to NCBA’s leadership indicating that its allegations of misconduct and unethical behavior had been investigated and resolved.
The allegations began in February 2011 at the Cattlemen’s Beef Board Update Session held in Denver and were lodged with the Beef Board Executive Committee on March 24, 2011 by the NCBA leadership. On June 1-2, 2011, the Beef Board Executive Committee met for the purpose of reviewing, investigating, and answering or addressing the charges. “The CBB [Cattlemen’s Beef Board] Executive Committee has approached these charges forthrightly and professionally,” said Jon Wooster, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association president of San Lucas, Calif. “This dispute is over and it’s time to move forward. This has been an unfortunate diversion from much more important matters, at the expense of the check-off,” Wooster said. “The CBB Roles and Responsibilities Committee’s report of recommended changes to the CBB’s policies and procedures is completely responsive to the Secretary of Agriculture’s expectations for beef check-off governance as expressed in May 2010 and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s newly published guidelines for commodity check-off programs.”
Wooster pointed out that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressed his expectations of beef check-off governance in a May 17, 2010 letter addressed to the NCBA leadership, saying that to ensure the proper use of funds and oversight activities certain firewalls must be in place.
“The Federation of State Beef Councils must be an independent organization,” wrote Vilsack. “This requirement does not prohibit the Federation from contracting for its administrative or other services with other organizations. This requirement is consistent with the structure and administration of other check-off programs where there is a clear distinction between policy organizations and check-off programs.” Vilsack continued, “All funding decisions relating to check-off activities must be made only by the Federation and Cattlemen’s Beef Board, and not policy organizations; the Federation’s members who serve on the Beef Promotion Operating Committee are to be nominated and elected only by the Federation; Federation members must not vote on policy matters, nor be required to purchase a seat to a body that votes on policy; check-off funds cannot be used to purchase a seat in any policy organization; regardless of structure, policy organizations should not be permitted to influence, determine outcomes, or vote on check-off decisions; AMS [Agricultural Marketing Service] has statutory and regulatory oversight of the Federation and the CBB; and,” Vilsack continued, “failure to implement all of these firewalls would raise serious legal concerns as to whether restructuring complies with provisions of the Act and Order.”
“The financial discrepancies that continue to be uncovered validate the Secretary’s requirement of strengthened firewalls and an independence of the check-off program from the undue influence of policy organizations,” Wooster said. “The Secretary could not have been clearer about his expectations, and this cannot be overlooked in the public debate. The Roles and Responsibilities recommendations, if embraced by the Federation strengthens the firewalls and gives the Federation independence from the undue influence of policy organizations. They will position state beef councils to fulfill their obligations as the representatives of state check-off funds and to participate fully with the CBB in implementing a robust, dynamic check-off program that moves the industry into the future,” said Wooster.