Western Organization of Resource Councils
The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) calls one of its flagship programs the “Safe Food Fight.” And with WORC, the emphasis is always on fighting. After all, over 80% of WORC’s funding comes from big-money foundations, and they’re not paying WORC to be calm and rational.
WORC serves as the parent corporation for a collection of seven sub-groups in Wyoming, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and the Dakotas. WORC’s board of directors consists entirely of representatives from these subsidiaries. WORC provides support to these groups in the form of media, training in organizing and leadership, membership development, capacity building, and research.
It also funnels grant money to the state entities, a practice that WORC’s officers have perfected while passing money between the group’s two halves. Technically, WORC is two groups. One is tax-exempt under IRS section 501(c)(3), and raises most of the money; the other is a 501(c)(4) organization, and is technically responsible for most of WORC’s government lobbying. It’s an increasingly common practice among environmental and social advocacy groups who need to tap dance around IRS regulations in order to serve both their agendas and the letter of the law.
WORC fights feedlots in Wyoming. It pushed a ballot initiative in South Dakota that hamstrings hog farmers. Over the border in North Dakota WORC pushes for unnecessary restrictions on genetically improved wheat. With its Montana group taking the lead, WORC is fighting against a producer-funded “checkoff” program that promotes beef in the United States. At the same time, WORC’s Colorado organization pushes for costly and burdensome “country of origin” labeling for meat and fruit. The Idaho group took the lead in that state against making food safer by using irradiation. For an organization that complains so bitterly about “corporate” and “centralized” control of the U.S. food supply, WORC’s organizational structure appears to be an attempt to do the same thing with leftist activism in the Great Plains states.
All of these activist campaigns get traction in the mainstream press because WORC says its sub-groups are “grassroots” organizations made up of local farmers and ranchers. WORC makes sure its public face is that of “family farmers” — usually disaffected, left-leaning farmers — in order to perpetuate this front. The “local” and “little guy” personas provide necessary cover for the big-money foundations that call the shots by determining which programs get funded and which agendas get advanced.
Over the past decade, WORC has spent most of its money on programs aimed at influencing public opinion, legislation, rulemaking and the like — almost all of it directed against the large-scale, successful ranchers and farmers that compete with its own membership. But WORC has its own “mission creep,” expanding its purview into politics as well. In 1999 and 2000, WORC passed on more than $110,000 to a political and lobbying entity called the Montana Conservation Voters (another twin-billed activist group that uses one group to raise funds and an adjunct to lobby). With WORC funding, the Montana Conservation Voters ran smear campaigns against agriculture-friendly, pro-consumer candidates. This move toward a greater political presence is almost certain to follow WORC to the other states where it has a great presence.
And when WORC’s officers decide to communicate political ideas, they already have the infrastructure in place to do it. The High Plains News Service, which broadcasts the agricultural Left’s point of view on 56 radio stations serving 21 states, is a wholly owned WORC project.
Along with its subsidiary groups, the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) has mastered the art of creating the perception that it’s in the majority, when the fact is it’s a tiny minority. Take the beef checkoff. WORC likes to say that “a majority” of beef producers back its foundation-funded campaign to derail the checkoff, which helps pay for important research, and for the marketing of beef sold in the U.S. Denying that its position is on the lunatic fringe, WORC continues to call the checkoff “undemocratic,” “unconstitutional,” “wrong,” and even “criminal” — all the while insisting that real Western ranchers are behind them.
Spouting that kind of rhetoric works fairly well until you have to testify under oath. According to a 2002 press release from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which represents mainstream cattle ranchers, “John Smillie, program director for WORC, testified [in federal court] that WORC members consisted of seven grassroots community groups, none of which were formed specifically to represent beef producers. He testified that WORC also did not poll its membership to determine if a majority would support legal action challenging the constitutionality of the beef checkoff. Independent research conducted by Aspen Media and Market Research in July 2001 found that 72 percent of producers said they support the beef checkoff program.” (Emphasis added)
Not that WORC needs to worry much about what its “members” have to say. According to WORC’s tax returns, it doesn’t have any. WORC manages to avoid mentioning this in its web site, press releases, and radio broadcasts, but the organization received $0 — ZERO dollars — from memberships in at least the last three years.
The Western Organization of Resource Councils’ officers are convinced that corporations are bad. Unless they’re tax-exempt corporations like WORC and its subsidiaries. In fact, WORC believes that for-profit corporations are so bad that it has a program called the Corporate Research Database, providing activists with fuel for their anti-corporate fires.
WORC is also firmly against “outside influences” in rural agriculture. Judging from the organization’s prevailing rhetoric, outsiders like large-scale farmers, mining companies, and energy corporations are to be excoriated and labeled as profiteering pirates. Of course, out-of-state foundation officers bearing six-figure grants to WORC and its affiliates are perfectly fine. Those outside influences are kind and visionary.
WORC is also motivated by a sense of Manifest Destiny. The “resource council” concept was born in Montana with the start of the Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC). Arguably, NPRC was initially a true grassroots group with a membership base of actual ranchers, but it quickly evolved into a staff-driven, foundation-dependent pressure group. Since that’s considered a huge success in today’s Conflict Industry, NPRC’s Pat Sweeney decided to expand the concept.
With NPRC and the Powder River Basin Resource Council (in Wyoming) up and running in the early 1970s, WORC was incorporated as an umbrella group — they probably resisted calling it a “parent corporation” — and operated for several years out of the NPRC offices in Montana. Subsidiaries were later set up in North Dakota, then Colorado, Idaho, and later South Dakota in the 1980s. In 2001 the expansion continued with the formation of Oregon Rural Action, which predictably describes its agenda as “food safety and renewable energy.”
Those two issues, of course, just happen to be high on the priority list for foundation grant managers. If WORC’s latest expansion is any indication, its true motive is to keep its funders happy and maintain the flow of easy money.