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Sun-Diamond Growers of California

Bromide Baron Rap Sheet #5
Political Ecology Group
March 31st, 1997

President: Bob Beckwith
Address: P. O. Box 9024, Pleasanton, CA 94566
Tel: (510) 463-8200
Fax: (510) 463-7492
Web site: Sun-Diamond Growers

Major Businesses: Sun-Diamond portrays itself as a "service organization." Formed in 1980 Sun-Diamond provides "combined sales representation and support services to its five member cooperatives" which represent growers of walnuts, prunes, raisins and figs. Sun-Diamond has fruit and nut operations in California, Oregon, New Mexico and Illinois.

Sales: nearly $700 million in 1996.
Profits: unknown

The most blatent case of the Bromide Barons attempting to underine the democratic process with their financial influence is that of Sun-Diamond Growers of California. A large agricultural concern that uses methyl bromide to grow young fruit trees and to fumigate stored fruit and nuts, Sun-Diamond is composed of five member cooperatives: Diamond Walnut Growers Inc., Sun-Maid Growers of California, Sunsweet Growers Inc., Valley Fig Growers and Hazelnut Growers of Oregon. Sun Diamond's 4,500 members produced nearly $700 million worth of agricultural produce in 1995.[1]

Sun-Diamond has lobbied heavily for methyl bromide, in California, in Washington D.C., and internationally at Montreal Protocol meetings. Indeed, in order to protect their interests, the leadership of the Cooperative has cultivated a number of friends in high places. These include former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy and California Governor, Pete Wilson.


Bribing the Secretary of Agriculture

While these "friendships" have served Sun-Diamond's agribusiness well, they have also gotten the company into deep trouble. The relationship between former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and Sun-Diamond is exemplary. In September 1996, a Federal jury found Sun-Diamond guilty on eight out of nine counts of making illegal gifts to Espy while he was Secretary of Agriculture. (Mike Espy resigned in late 1994 as quetions arose about his relationship with the corporations the USDA was supposed to regulate.) The more than $9,000 worth of gifts Espy received from Sun-Diamond's Senior Vice President Richard Douglas in 1993-94 came at a time when the USDA was considering changes to export grants (a form of corporate welfare), as well as phasing out methyl bromide.[2]

Lawyers for Sun-Diamond, which reimbursed Douglas for most of his expenses, attempted unsuccessfully to convince the jury that the gifts their Vice President gave Espy were based strictly on their longstanding "friendship." Espy's attorney Reid Weingarten said the following about his client's relationship with Richard Douglas: "Mike Espy never did any official favor for Sun-Diamond...Any gifts Mike Espy received from Richard Douglas were the product of a long personal relationship between them."[3] Douglas was later indicted by a Federal grand jury on similar charges.[4]


Coddling the California Governor

In 1994 Richard Douglas explained his relationship with Pete Wilson using uncannily similar language. "We don't need to lobby the governor... We don't discuss business. We talk about the world. We talk about families, the state. This is kind of like a group of old friends getting together."[5] An old friend of Wilson, Sun-Diamond was a top contributor to his campaign for governor in 1993, weighing in with more than $190,000.[6]

The relationship between Sun Diamond and Wilson goes back a long time. As Richard Douglas explained it back in 1994, "Pete has had a personal realtionship with the leadership of Sun-Diamond for over a decade...We want to see him remain at the helm of the ship." In fact, Sun Diamond helped Pete Wilson move from being a relatively obscure mayor of San Diego, to become a U.S. Senator. As Douglas relates: "We had our neck stuck out for the mayor of San Diego. We raised money for him, we went to bat for him and he won. Pete, after getting elected, came back to thank the Sun-Diamond family time and time again."[7] Part of that "thanks" appears to have been calling the special session of the California State legislature in order to keep methyl bromide in the field in California.


Poisoning Workers

Not everyone is pleased with Sun-Diamond's support for methyl bromide. For instance, Sun-Diamond workers have been poisoned by the deadly chemical. In 1986, seven union workers in the Diamond Walnut (a subsidiary of Sun-Diamond) processing plant in Stockton, California, were sent to the hospital after being exposed to methyl bromide. As a result of this and a series of other incidents, the union that represents these workers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, has supported the phaseout of methyl bromide.[8]

The Teamsters Union also applauded the USDA's decision to ban Sun-Diamond from participating in federal purchase programs for three years, after the company was convicted of bribing Mike Espy. "Sun-Diamond is an outlaw corporation. It doesn't deserve to pocket a dime of taxpayers' money," said Lucio Reyes, president of Teamsters Local 601 in Stockton, California.[9]


Endnotes

  1. David Johnston, "Growers' Cooperative Guilty Over Gifts to Ex-Agriculture Chief," The New York Times, September 25, 1996.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. David Johnston, "Espy Is Linked to Illegal Gift in Indictment," The New York Times, October 17, 1996.
  5. Daniel M. Weintraub, "Groups with Stake in State Top Wilson's Donor List: Major Corporations, Organizations with Interest in Legislation, Regulations are Prime Contributors," The Los Angeles Times February 27, 1994.
  6. San Francisco Chronicle, March 19, 1996.
  7. Daniel M. Weintraub, "Groups with Stake."
  8. Will Allen, Jo Ann Baumgartner, Kalee Kreider, Susan Pollack, Out of the Fryng Pan, Avoiding the Fire: Ending the Use of Methyl Bromide, Ozone Action, 1995, pp. 4-5.
  9. "Teamsters Applaud USDA Decision to Kick Sun-Diamond Out of the School Lunch Program," International Brotherhood of Teamsters News Release, October 4, 1996.