Now that the Democratic campaign has narrowed to two clear front-runners — each of whom has managed a surprise victory over the other in a major primary — the time has come to take a look at how they stack up on food and ag policy.

If elected, would these prospective presidents kowtow to Big Food interests — or work to rebuild local and regional food systems?

To gain insight, over several posts I’ll compare and contrast Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on three fronts:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

  1. campaign contributions;
  2. ties to agribusiness; and
  3. their own campaign material.

Here’s part one.

Follow the money

For campaign finance, I’ll look to that venerable database,, run by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the 2008 campaign season, agribusiness interests gave Hillary Clinton $529,000 — more than any other politician except Mitt Romney ($566,000). Obama came in at No. 5 (trailing Giuliani and McCain), drawing in $323,500.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Now, these numbers might not be telling us much about which front-runner agribusiness prefers. They could merely reflect a powerful industry’s attempt to handicap the race. They include donations up to Oct. 29, 2007 — a time when Clinton still exuded an air of inevitability.

So let’s look at 2006, Clinton’s last Senate campaign. That year, she reaped about $180,000 in agribiz cash — ranking her 14th in the Senate. I note that at least four of the people above her on that list served on the Senate Agriculture Committee, a natural magnet for agribiz cash. So we can say that Clinton was in the top ten among noncommittee members — a pretty remarkable place for someone from a state that doesn’t house a large agribusiness industry. Again, though, by 2006 everyone knew HRC would likely run for president. The industry might have been just getting its chits together for the 2008 presidential race.

Now let’s look at Obama in 2004, the year of his first (and only) Senate campaign. No one could have imagined then that Obama would be a serious presidential candidate in ’08. Obama drew in $130,000 in 2004. That seems like a substantial number, but it wasn’t enough to crack the top 20 among Senate candidates that year, a feat that would have required about $176,000.

In 2000, Clinton ran her first Senate campaign. And that year, she took in $152,000 in agribusiness cash, good enough for 18th among Senate candidates. Interestingly, her initial opponent in that race, Rudy Giuliani, brought in even more: $159,000.

It’s hard to know how to interpret these numbers. It seems fair to say that in voting with its checkbook, the agribiz lobby seems comfortable with both of these candidates — and perhaps a little more comfortable with Hillary Clinton.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.