WASHINGTON -- House Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Robert B. Aderholt has broken bread for years at international prayer breakfasts, courtesy of trips paid for by a private foundation funded by an Arkansas poultry company.
The Alabama Republican has visited Montenegro, Greece, Albania, Croatia, Colombia, Bolivia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Romania and Guatemala between 2008 and 2015 on the tab of the Fellowship Foundation. Total cost: $60,000, according to a blog post by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Aderholt's trips were first highlighted earlier this month by the CRP, which tracks the influence of campaign and lobbying money on Capitol Hill. He insists his trips are about prayer and Christian fellowship.
"I know that there's absolutely nothing ... that there is nothing improper," the 10-term lawmaker told CQ Roll Call. "Only in Washington would a story come out and you would be reluctant to go to a prayer breakfast."
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According to the CRP, the International Foundation's president is W. Dabbs Cavin, chief financial officer of Mountaire Corp., an Arkansas poultry company with operations in Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina.
The company's four-point business creed calls for it to "be good stewards of all the assets God has entrusted to us."
Mountaire donated $1.4 million to the foundation in 2013 and $2 million in 2012, the CRP said. Cavin, the company's chief financial officer, began signing travel documents in 2012 that Aderholt submitted to the House Ethics Committee for review.
Aderholt's appropriations panel allocates funding for the Agriculture Department, whose broad portfolio includes inspection of meat, poultry and egg plants.
"Poultry is a big business in my constituency and Alabama," Aderholt told CQ Roll Call, adding that Mountaire "doesn't have any operations that I know of in Alabama."
Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for Food and Water Watch, called Aderholt "a strong ally" of the poultry industry. Food and Water Watch threatened to sue Mountaire in August 2015 over alleged pollution violations in Delaware. The company has entered a consent decree with the state to address the issues.
Aderholt says he has met and talked with Cavin and Ronnie Cameron, Mountaire's president and chief executive officer, at prayer breakfasts on Capitol Hill, but insists they have never discussed what the lawmaker could do for Mountaire.
"I don't recall that they made any of the trips," he said.
He said the talks with Cameron were focused on religion and sometimes politics. Cameron has been a large contributor to a super PAC assisting former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC affiliated with conservatives Charles and David Koch.