The multi-billion dollar chicken business in Mississippi at heart of why state leaders repeatedly balk at tougher immigration rules

Published 11:44 am Thursday, August 22, 2019

Koch and Peco food companies and their executives have given few donations directly to local politicians — just $4,950 to five candidates since 1999, according to FollowTheMoney. Peco Foods donated $500 to Reeves in 2015, the year he was elected to his second term.

The political action committee for the National Chicken Council, the national trade association for companies that raise broiler chickens and produce chicken products, has donated roughly $3.5 million to political candidates nationally since 1990. Since 2010, the council’s donations have increasingly gone to Republican candidates with 88 percent of dollars going to Republicans in 2018, according to the Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks national campaign finance reports.

The council has donated $226,300 to congressional candidates in Mississippi since 1980.

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The council donated $10,000 to U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, former state agriculture commissioner, during her 2018 run to replace late Sen. Thad Cochran and has donated an additional $6,500 so far in 2019. It also gave $34,500 to Cochran, $30,500 to former U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, $26,000 to U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, $10,500 to U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, $10,500 to U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo and $4,500 to newly elected U.S. Rep. Michael Guest.

The chicken council wrote a letter to President Donald Trump following the Mississippi raids calling for improvements to the E-Verify system, which it called inadequate in ensuring applicants are eligible to work in the U.S.

Mike Cockrell, chief financial officer of Laurel-based Sanderson Farms, which was not involved in the recent immigration raids and is the nation’s third largest poultry producer, said the company supports meaningful immigration reforms and has opposed aggressive enforcement measures such as “papers, please” laws.

The raids, Cockrell said, “shines a light, once again, for the dire need for reform.”

While Mississippi has balked at attempts at reforms on the state level, some lawmakers such as Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison, agree with Cockrell.

“There are a lot of people that want to come to Mississippi to work, to pay taxes, to be productive, law-abiding workers and our immigration system and our immigration laws are so broken that there’s no good way for them to do that,” Bomgar said. “Regardless of how many people apply for the openings that were created by the raids, even so, those organizations will be extremely understaffed because the vast majority of Mississippians do not want to do that work.”