So much for “draining the swamp.” The man that US president-elect Donald Trump has picked for his transition team to manage food issues, including his take on the Department of Agriculture, is an entrenched Capitol Hill veteran with ties to the soda lobby.
Michael K. Torrey is going to be a leading voice in deciding how the hand-off of power—including farm, health, and school meals policy—will look as the Obama administration sunsets to an ascendant Republican successor. In the last four years, his eponymous lobbying firm has collected more than $800,000 from the American Beverage Association, according to financial disclosures.
His firm has also represented Dean Foods Company, WhiteWave Foods, Little Caesars, the Snack Food Association, and soybean interests. The soda industry has used Torrey—who is highly respected in many DC food and agriculture circles—to try and influence government officials and lawmakers on a range of issues in the past, including food stamps policy, the government’s Dietary Guidelines, and food package labeling issues, disclosures show.
In picking Torrey, the incoming administration is giving a nod to the DC insider culture his campaign and followers had repudiated. Trump followers often deploy a #draintheswamp hashtag across social media, a concept that was popularized following a campaign promise to break apart the “establishment” and create a strong separation between lobbying and lawmaking.
“He will institute a five year ban on all executive branch officials lobbying the government for five years after they leave a government service,” read an Oct. 17 press release. “Congress will pass this ban so that it cannot be lifted by executive order.”
But it seems that rule won’t be a two-way street, leaving powerful lobbyists a clear path to wield influence within the federal bureaucracy, as evidenced by Torrey and others.
Most recently, the soda industry lobbied to shape 2015 US Dietary Guidelines under the Obama administration. The American Beverage Association was pleased with the final outcome, even as it suggested a limit on how much added sugar people should consume for the first time. That was followed up with a new labeling rule that would force food companies to list on food packaging how much added sugar is in products.
Correction: This story was modified to clarify the American Beverage Association’s position on the outcome of the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines.