Iowans: Pockets Full Corn and Presidential Candidates

June 29, 2015

The presidential campaign season has started. We know because media is swarming Iowa and presidential candidates are asked time and again their position on one chief issue deep in Iowa’s pocket: ethanol.

Iowa cares about ethanol because it grows a whole lot of corn. In fact, Iowa has grown more corn than any other state for almost two decades.

Since 2007, Iowa corn production has boomed because of the expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a policy that requires increasing amounts of ethanol—mostly corn ethanol—be pumped into Americans’ gas tanks. More than 80 percent of the ethanol mandate is fulfilled by ethanol made from corn.

Thus, Iowa’s corn lobbyists have a heavy stake in ethanol production, and hopeful presidential candidates know it—and they pander to it. A recent survey of Iowans found 57 percent were less likely to support a candidate who opposed RFS ethanol mandates. To gain favor in Iowa—to take a major step toward the presidency—candidates are forced to declare their loyalty to the ethanol mandate.

As a result of the state’s outsized influence as the host of the first-in-the-nation caucuses, issues like ethanol get marquee attention that wouldn’t otherwise. That’s exactly why The Daily Show recently took on the Iowa Caucus status quo.

*Skip to 4:53 for mention of ethanol.

As correspondent Al Madrigal points out, there are significant problems with ethanol mandates, including $6 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies and research that shows ethanol production causes widespread environmental harm. In fact, the nonpartisan Environmental Working Group calls corn ethanol “the poster child” of the Renewable Fuel Standard’s broken promise to deliver environmentally beneficial biofuels.

What it comes down to is power, influence and a strong presence in Washington. “The Ethanol Lobby has a lot of power and a lot of money,” political consultant Rick Ridder said. “Ethanol shouldn’t have such a significant importance in the issues facing our presidential campaigns.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Ethanol mandates may be working for special interests in Iowa, but they’re not working for the rest of us. The policy needs to be reformed, and you can be the one to tell Congress to do it. Take action here to tell your legislator to reform the RFS.