By Ben King
It’s no secret that big businesses try to influence the political environment and government through lobbying, PAC money and plying elected officials with campaign contributions. After reviewing contributions made by Nestlé Waters, it seems that the company is no stranger to this strategy.
From Michigan to Florida, Nestlé has been very generous with contributions to members of Congress whose districts include springs and other water sources or bottling facilities.
In 2007, Nestlé gave thousands in campaign contributions to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels [R], who supported the Great Lakes Compact, a legal agreement among states in the Great Lakes region governing management of the local water supply. The Compact included a loophole that exempted the bottled water industry from following its water withdrawal regulations. Nestlé also received $850,000 in property tax credits from the state for a bottled water facility built in Greenwood, Indiana during his term.
In 2004 and 2008, Nestlé gave big contributions to New York State Senator Carl Marcellino [R], a vociferous opponent of a new bottle deposit bill which would have imposed fees for certain plastic bottles, including those for bottled water, to encourage recycling. Marcellino called the bill a “money grab” out of the pockets of beverage makers.
But it seems that there’s nowhere that Nestlé has spent more money than in the state of Maine.
As Food & Water Watch blogged last month, Nestlé is trying to enter into a new 25-to 45-year contract with the Fryeburg Water Company, which has been supplying the company with water since 1997. Though Nestlé claims the agreement will benefit the public by generating substantial revenue, there is no certainty that this plan would actually keep water rates down. The State Public Utility Commission is currently reviewing the contract.
In this contentious environment, Nestlé, its employees and lobbyists have spent nearly $650,000 on campaign contributions and support in the state of Maine. Notably, they spent $218,000 to defeat a state bottled water tax in 2004 and 2005, and another $106,000 to help repeal a state beverage tax in 2008. They’ve also given to dozens of candidates and PACs across the state, from Aroostook County to Portland. Among these legislators are more than a few representing districts where Nestlé’s springs and bottling operations are located, including those in Denmark, Fryeburg, Kingfeld and Poland.
But Nestlé’s influence on state government doesn’t end there. One member of the State Public Utility Commission – the very body deciding whether to allow Nestlé’s new contract – has already recused himself from that decision because of his ties to the company, and the two remaining commission members also have documented ties to the corporation. Maybe that’s not surprising though – two of the commissioners were appointed by Governor Paul LePage [R], the third by former Governor John Baldacci [D]; both candidates received campaign contributions from Nestlé.
Residents of Maine, and all states for that matter, deserves public servants who make decisions based on what’s best for their constituents, not their corporate donors. Communities need to stand up to protect one of their most precious resources–their water–from being subject to corporate takeover.
Ben King is a Food & Water Watch spring water research and policy intern and a Master of Public Policy student at Georgetown University.