Vote NO on 2 in Ohio! How Yes on 2 Used Advertising to Fool Voters

. 12 min read
chickencafo

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I never fully understood that until this weekend. I mean, I understood it, but I didn’t get it. But now I really get it. I mean get it in my heart, in my soul.

You know when you do something wrong and someone confronts you, you say, “I didn’t mean to do it.” Or how you say, “I’m trying.” Trying is B.S. You’re either doing what you know you need to be doing, or you’re not. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Goodbye, Google Ads

I was horrified this weekend to find out that some really nasty banner ads had been running on my blog. A reader from Ohio contacted me to let me know. You see, I have no control over which ads Google chooses to run. I can block them but that’s only if I can see them. Since Google runs ads that are “geo-targeted,” meaning that they run only in certain cities or states, I can not always see them.

Interestingly, I had decided to remove all the Google ads from my site just before the reader contacted me. I had been feeling more and more like running Google ads was a breech of integrity. I wasn’t earning a lot from the ads, but it was something. But I felt that the price I was paying was far greater than any amount of money. You can’t put a price on integrity.

The banner ads were telling people to vote YES ON ISSUE 2 in Ohio, which is going to the polls tomorrow, Tuesday, November 3, 2009. The banners were driving people over to this site, SAFELOCALOHIOFOOD.org

What’s Issue 2 and Why Should We Care?

Issue 2 on the November ballot is an industry attempt to change the Ohio state constitution, establishing a “Livestock Care Standards Board” that would have unchecked power to establish standards for livestock and poultry. Technically the product of the Ohio General Assembly, the ballot issue is heavily backed by groups representing major agribusiness interests, including the Ohio Farm Bureau and The Ohio Pork Producers Council. While masquerading as an attempt to improve food safety and animal welfare, Issue 2 in reality is an attempt by big industry to preempt statewide initiatives like the recent Proposition 2 in California, which phased out problematic animal production practices like battery cages for chickens. In effect, the proposed Livestock Care Standards Board would give a dozen political appointees broad and unchecked power to decide rules on animal welfare, potentially reshaping regulations on how animals are raised, tracked or traced. (Source: Ohioact.org)

I’m disgusted that my blog was used for this nasty campaign. So disgusted that I feel compelled to write this post and tell you all about it. And I need to go into great detail because this is really, really important. Not just for people in Ohio. We need to wake up and pay attention to HOW this manipulation is accomplished. Only by becoming aware can we stand up to this nonsense.

This issue is especially upsetting to me because I was born in Ohio. My extended family still lives there. We have streets named after our family in that small town. My grandpa and my great-grandpa supported their families as farmers — until they were driven out by Big Ag (as Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butts said, “Get big or get out.”). Our family still lives on the family farmland — which is now covered with genetically modified corn and soybeans. The same farmland where they used to be able to support themselves growing vegetables and raising chickens.

I spent some time looking into the issue and the YES ON 2 campaign over the weekend. I spent 15 years in interactive advertising, so I know a thing or two about how ad campaigns work. This one is good. Really well done. They must have paid a lot of money to get such a slick campaign. Let’s take a look.

How Political PR & Advertising Works Today

First, I need to share a little background on how political PR works these days. I came upon this fascinating interview with Rachel Maddow and political lobbyist/PR spin-meister, Rick Berman.

You can read more about Rick Berman on one of my very favorite websites, SourceWatch. I’ve known about Rick Berman for some time, so I was thrilled to see Rachel Maddow do this piece.

According to a July 31, 2006, profile of Rick Berman in USA Today, Berman and Co. has 28 employees and takes in $10 million dollars a year… (SourceWatch)

Watch these videos (part one and part two), then we’ll move on to the specific campaign going on in Ohio:

I love how Rick Berman talks about how he’s doing what he believes and he’s always been consistent, and how he’s only repeating what scientists and economists are saying. Yadda-yadda-yadda. He acts as though he is so full of integrity. What a load of horsesh*t! This man is being paid by huge corporations to do their bidding.

One of the things I love best about the SourceWatch.com website is they reveal the corporations paying these lobbyists and “front groups”. Click this link to see who has financial ties to Rick Berman. If you want to learn more about “front groups” (an endlessly fascinating topic to me), visit SourceWatch’s Front Groups Portal.

Hey, I used to work in advertising, folks. I know what it’s like to sell your soul to the highest bidder. Do you think we ever turned down a corporate client? Hell, no. We took their money. Didn’t matter what they did, said, or believed in. We could not afford to turn away a paying client. And the more money they gave us, the more important they became in our eyes.

I suppose you can make yourself believe anything if you’re being paid enough. Humans are really good at justifying and rationalizing. If we weren’t, the holocaust would have never happened. People would have taken a stand, spoken out. But they didn’t. They let it happen.

People like Rick Berman spend their lives finding reasons to convince themselves and others that what they’re doing is okay and that they actually really believe what they’re doing is good. And it’s people like me, running Google ads that lie to people about the issues I care most about.

Not only were my Google ads lying to my readers, but worse, I was lying to myself about how much they mattered. The truth is, they do matter. They matter more than anything else. Because integrity, honoring your word as you honor yourself, is everything.

So what’s so bad about the Ohio Yes on 2 campaign? Here we go…

The Ohio Yes on 2 Campaign

When I saw the website the banners on my site were driving people to, SAFE LOCAL OHIO FOOD, I had to give them props. The website is very well done. High production values, beautiful graphics. Plus, whoever did it is a very good strategist. He or she really studied the issues of sustainable farming, the local food movement, and people’s concerns about food safety. They worked all that messaging into the copy.

Check out the homepage. I made my comments about it below:

safefood-orig
safefood

Click to enlarge the second photo.

See how they use “local food” and “safe food” and “tractor to table”? They co-opted all of our language. Instead of “farm to fork” they used “tractor to table”. They talk about “family farms” and how it’s important to eat locally. They even used the color green to make the site seem eco-friendly.

Clearly there was some big money spent on this campaign. Click here to see who funded it (scroll down for a chart).

I was curious to find out who had built this site. Nothing on Google. So I did a who is search on Network Solutions (one of the tricks of the trade). The domain is registered to a guy named Jon-David Schlough, an Interactive/New Media Strategic Consultant in Washington D.C. Funny, that’s exactly what I used to do (only I worked for corporate clients, not political campaigns).

Now that doesn’t PROVE that he did this website, but it’s very likely that he did.

whois

I googled his name and found him on Linked In.

schlough

Turns out he also worked on the Al Franken campaign. And look what he wrote on his Linked In profile:

Technology is about improving the state of things.
Technology is about adding value.
Technology is about users.

Improving the state of things? Adding value? Really? You’re promoting factory farming and you think you are improving the state of things and adding value?

Of course what we say we believe and what we do are two very different things, aren’t they? It comes back around to integrity.

I also hate the word “users”. Always have. It’s a way of talking about people that dehumanizes them. They’re no longer people — they’re reduced to “eyeballs” and “clicks”. I have sat in many a meeting discussing how to manipulate people with media. When you don’t call them “people” or “human beings,” it doesn’t seem so bad. If they’re just users, they may as well be rats in a scientific experiment.

So this is the guy (PLEASE comment if I’m wrong, since the only evidence I have is a WhoIs search; I don’t want to unfairly incriminate the guy) who masterminded this site. A Rick Berman, Jr., if you will.

I’ll be honest. This could have just as easily been me. When I worked in advertising, I had no choice. If I didn’t do the work I was paid to do, I didn’t get paid.

But now I am choosing to live with integrity. I’m not making six figures anymore (ha! I figured out the other day that what I am paying myself is less than I would make working at McDonald’s). But I can live with myself.

Meet the “Family Farms”

Let’s get into the website a little more in depth. The campaign claims that if you support Issue 2, you’ll be supporting “family farms”. What is a family farm? When I think of a family farm, I imagine a small family living in a home with a barn and some cows and chickens.

While there is no legal definition for a family farmer in the U.S., the United States Department of Agriculture has stated that 98% of all farms in the U.S. are technically family farms. Many factory farms, for example, are operated through what would be considered “family farms.” (Sources: Hoppe, Robert A. et al. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. “Structure and finances of U.S. farms: Family farm report, 2007 edition.” and MacDonald, James, and McBride, William. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.)

They profile “family farms” on the SAFELOCALOHIOFOOD.org website. Let’s take a look.

Meet Brenda

brenda

Watch this video of Brenda Hastings, a self-proclaimed “third-generation family farmer” in Ohio. Wow, just like my family. Right? Only, apparently, Brenda Hastings hasn’t lived in Ohio very long.

According to Diane and Tom Jones at Windt im Wald Farm:

Brenda Hastings, the “farm” lady who appears in pro-Issue 2 ads appearing on television, is the co-owner of a 600-head Holstein dairy operation. Both she and her husband moved their dairy operation from California shortly after Proposition 2 passed there.

While I can’t verify whether Prop 2. is what motivated Hastings Dairy to relocate to Ohio, I did find Brenda on Linked In. Says she worked at the University of California at Davis until 2004. She went to school at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and California State University, Fresno. So she’s not from Ohio — or at least she hasn’t been living there for a long time.

Also, according to LinkedIn.com, Brenda spent 8 years working in advertising and public relations. I bet she knows a thing or two about spin.

Her Linked In profile states: “My husband and I have a herd of Holstein cows in Burton, Ohio.” Makes her sound like a small family farm with a few cows and a barn. Not exactly.

As she said in the video, their dairy, Hastings Dairy, has a herd of 600 Holstein cows. Do you want to see what Brenda’s farm really looks like? Check out these videos on the Ohiodairyfarmers.com website

According to that website, Brenda’s Hastings Dairy is a huge operation and all the cows are kept inside in fancy temperature-controlled barns:

A successful dairy farm requires excellent animal care. That’s why our cows are kept in these temperature controlled barns. It’s why we have fans and water misters in the summertime to keep them cool and we have curtains and an enclosure to keep them warm in the winter. Our cows get fed the best feed money can buy and they have fresh filtered water available to them all the time. We wouldn’t think of doing anything less for them.

Not exactly the idyllic small family farm that I imagined when I looked at the SAFELOCALOHIOFOOD.org website.

Other “Family Farms” That Support Yes On 2

ohiocountryjournal

The SAFELOCALOHIOFOOD.org site says that local Ohio farms ensure that:

Animals are healthy and well cared for,
Food is safe and of the highest quality,
Locally produced food is available at the grocery store and
Farmers are running their farms responsibly and following relevant regulations.

Let’s look at some of these other “safe, local, Ohio” farms who support YES on Issue 2, shall we?

According to Ohio’s County Journal, two of the “family farms” supporting “yes on 2” are Weaver Bros. and Heimerl Farms.

Weaver Brothers Egg Farm has been exposed in undercover investigations that revealed:

Hens with broken, damaged, and feces-covered feathers packed into tiny wire battery cages so small they cannot even spread their wings.
Hens suffering from huge, untreated growths and infections.
Hens who had become completely immobilized without access to water when their wings/head/neck/or feathers became trapped in the wire of the cage.
Dead hens left to decompose in cages with live hens who are still producing eggs for human consumption.
Hens who had escaped their cages, wandering in manure pits, with no access to water.
Live hens thrown away in trash bins or dumpsters, left to die amidst carcasses.
hens
weaver

You can see more photos here.  (These photos made me cry. These are not conditions under which any animal should be forced to live.)

The Heimerl Farms Ltd. pork operation. According to Farm Sanctuary, Heimerl Farms Ltd. runs a chain of 3 pig CAFOs in Ohio. They “confine more than 10,000 breeding sows to produce not 100,000, but 250,000 pigs a year”.

HBO recently aired a documentary, DEATH ON A FACTORY FARM, produced by Tom Simon and Sarah Teale, about pig CAFOs (confinement animal feeding operation) in Ohio.

While working at a hog farm in Ohio, undercover investigator Pete records footage of hundreds of impregnated sows crammed into gestation crates that completely restrict their movement. They are held in these crates, standing up or collapsed on the floor, for up to 116 days.

Watch a few of the clips:

Now I’m not saying this is how they do things at the Heimerl Farms operation. I really don’t know. But I do know that most large pork CAFOs work in a similar fashion.

Click over to YouTube to see more clips. I challenge you to watch all of those clips and still support “conventional” factory farming. If you can pull that off, you must be a sociopath. Or a lobbyist or advertising executive. 😉

What Can You Do?

If you’re like me, this information makes you want to scream. Instead of screaming or just sitting around feeling frustrated, do something. Spread the word about Issue 2 in Ohio. We must do everything we can to prevent this from passing — because it will only strengthen factory farms in Ohio and it will hurt sustainable family farms.

Forward This Post Via Email

Please forward this post to your friends and family. Reach out to your friends and family in Ohio either by email or phone. Ask them to spread the word to their friends and family. Even if they don’t know people in Ohio, maybe they know people who know people in Ohio. You never know, right?

Tweet About It

Use Twitter and spread the word! We only have one more day. Use hashtag #issue2 when you tweet. Change your Twitter profile photo to NO ON 2. (It’s easy and you can change it back on Wednesday after the election.

Share This On Facebook

Share this post and other posts on this topic on Facebook. Change your Facebook profile photo (like I did) to NO ON 2.

Stumble This Post

If you’re a user of StumbleUpon.com, please give this post a “thumbs up,” and send it to your friends on StumbleUpon.

The more people who know about this post, the more it has the possibility of being spread to Ohio voters. Let’s act fast and help Ohio voters become informed.

For more information on why people should vote NO on Issue 2 in Ohio this Tuesday Nov 3, visit Ohioact.org.