Three Iowa Republicans running for federal offices have taken campaign contributions from Smithfield Foods Political Action Committee in 2020 — a PAC that represents the meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which was home to the largest coronavirus outbreak in the country in April.
Senator Joni Ernst, and two candidates for Congress, David Young (IA-03) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04), have all taken money from the so-called “HAMPAC” within the last year.
The company was fined by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration earlier this year for failing to provide a safe workplace in its Sioux Falls plant after nearly 1,300 of its workers contracted COVID-19 and four died.
Workers at a Smithfield plant in Milan, Missouri also filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging Smithfield forced them to work in unsafe conditions.
In North Carolina, Smithfield Foods Inc. refused to acknowledge any cases of COVID-19 in its Tar Heel plant, even though workers had been trying to contact the media about an outbreak there. According to a local television station, KBTV, an outbreak had to be confirmed by a Robeson County Health Department spokesperson, who said 46 of its residents who had tested positive worked at the Smithfield Foods plant.
Still, Feenstra for Congress accepted $2,500 from the company June 29, 2020.
JD Scholten, who’s challenging Feenstra in IA-04, said: “By taking money from Smithfield, which is owned by a Chinese firm, Randy Feenstra is propping up the corporate system that is sucking wealth, power, and opportunities out of Iowa’s 4th District.”
“During this pandemic, Smithfield has squeezed out farmers, put workers in dangerous situations for little pay, and raised the prices on consumers at the grocery store while raking in record profits,” Scholten said. “In Congress, I won’t be beholden to these multinational corporations because I don’t take a dime of their money and my first priority will be introducing legislation to hold them accountable.”
Joni For Iowa has not accepted a donation from Smithfield since March 30 — just a few days after the first cases at Smithfield’s South Dakota plant were announced — but her campaign has accepted $8,500 from Smithfield since March of 2019.
“From the onset of this pandemic, Senator Ernst has prioritized the profits of her corporate special interest donors over the health and economic realities facing workers and communities,” said Jeremy Busch, a spokesperson for the Iowa Democratic Party. “Now, as Iowa again faces one of the worst outbreaks in the country, Ernst is ignoring and downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic by refusing to deliver the relief that Iowans urgently need.”
Ernst already ran into trouble this year for downplaying the severity of the virus. Earlier this year, Ernst wrongfully suggested doctors and nurses were lying about the number of people who had died from the virus to get hospitals more money.
Young For Iowa Inc. accepted a $1,000 contribution from Smithfield Foods on June 30 this year, according to FEC records.
Despite having accepted the money, Young said during a debate Monday night he’s “very serious” about preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“Listen, this is a real thing. It has killed a volunteer of mine,” Young said. “I know other people that it has killed. I’ve had former staffers get this as well.”
During the debate Congresswoman Cindy Axne argued the president hasn’t done what he needs to do to make sure the country is safe, and said: “As a matter of fact, my former congressman sitting next to me here is buying into that. He says it’s a personal responsibility.
“I think you said it’s irresponsible to not take this seriously, and that it killed one of your team members, but yet you’re out in public without wearing a mask,” Axne said. “Science has proven that if you wear a mask, we slow the transmission dramatically. Had we done this ages ago, we would be in a lot different place in this country.”
By Paige Godden
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