Sycamore News on Thu, Apr 1, 2004.
Campaign contributions funded both sides of horse slaughter issue
By MICHAEL CHAPMAN
DeKalb County News
DEKALB — As a proposed bill outlawing the slaughter of horses in Illinois seems to be dead for the time being, an examination of state political campaign contribution records shows those on each side of the issue were active in backing their interests — and legislators.
Included is local congressman Bob Pritchard (R—Hinckley), who along with two other members of the Illinois House of Representatives received a total of $1,000 in campaign donations from Cavel International Inc. within the last four months.
The DeKalb-based horse meat processing plant has been closed since a March 2002 fire but is scheduled to reopen this spring. If Senate Bill 1921 had been passed, it would have outlawed the slaughter of horses in Illinois and prevented Cavel from proceeding with operations.
The Illinois State Board of Elections recorded that Citizens for Pritchard received $500 from Cavel International Inc. on Dec. 22, 2003 while the campaigns for Dan Reitz (D—Steeleville) and Brandon Phelps (D—Norris City) both received $250 from Cavel within four days of each other in January. All three men are members of the Illinois House agriculture and conservation committee, of which Reitz is the chair.
On the other side, bill sponsor Rep. Robert Molaro (D—Chicago) has received more than $11,000 in campaign contributions from organizations affiliated with horse racing since the beginning of 2002, according to board records.
Pritchard insisted he led the effort to block the legislation based upon what he felt was best for the people within his district.
When asked about the contribution he received, Phelps stated he was unaware his campaign received money from Cavel since financial matters are handled by another individual within his campaign. He said he voted no on the bill based upon a recommendation from his local farm bureau and concerns from farmers in his area.
Reitz, who cast a present vote that is recorded as neither yes or no, did not return a call seeking comment. Cavel Spokesman Jim Tucker said donations were given to those who support the concept of meat-packing and allow farmers the freedom to choose how to dispose of animals. That all three representatives happened to be on the agriculture and conservation committee simply was a reflection that they represent a mutual interest with Cavel in agriculture, he said.
"They've been supportive of us, so we would want them reelected," Tucker said. "It's not that we feel they are in our pocket or anything." Molaro said he became involved with the issue at the encouragement of a horse owner and trainer. He said the campaign contributions he received were based upon and reflective of his past support of those employed in the horse racing
Pritchard said, while accepting donations from businesses when his vote might directly affect them creates political tension, it is part of the process.
"Unless people are independently wealthy, which I'm not, you need to accept contributions from those people who basically support your philosophy and the way that you are going to try and serve as a representative or a senator," he said. Phelps said accepting a campaign contribution from Cavel did not create a conflict of interest since he was unaware it happened and because there are positive and negative aspects to every vote cast, regardless of donations.
"We have a lot of farmers in my area and we just need a place for horses to be disposed of," he said.