ones. For example, agricultural producers were particularly effective at making the case that school lunch funding should not be cut, in part because of their financial stake in the program combined with their political clout.
Another lesson is that sending thousands of informed comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can greatly influence rulemaking. In 2011, proposals to change the school lunch rules generated 130,000 comments. “That’s a lot of federal workers spending a lot of time at night going over those [comments],” noted Cooney.
The media matters, continued Cooney. In 1981, when graphics were first coming into play on television, NBC showed on one side of the screen an 8-ounce glass of milk with a school meal and on the other side a picture of a farmer and a 6-ounce glass of milk. The farmers who were watching that night and saw 2 ounces of milk disappear for 27 million children “didn’t call 911,” said Cooney. “They called their member of Congress. Those reg[ulation]s were toast in 2 weeks.”
Cooney noted further that the combination of well-informed national organizations and strong networks of state and local partners has made it possible to craft and implement significant child nutrition benefits. The 1998 and 2010 child nutrition reauthorization bills illustrate this point. Bipartisan support also makes it possible to get proposals enacted.
Finally, partnering with groups that have a financial interest in child nutrition programs is not morally corrupt—“it’s effective,” said Cooney, although he admitted that not everyone agrees with that statement. Cooney said that CHC’s guideline is “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies.” The organization forms alliances with corporate partners when there is a common interest and a clear legislative or regulatory goal and agreement on a specific initiative CHC has authored. If a corporation does not agree with the position of an alliance, it is no longer part of the alliance. If it changes its position, it can join the alliance again. “We are not consistent. We see no value in that as a concept.”
Accepting money from corporations opens an alliance to criticism, Cooney acknowledged. The best defense against such charges, he advised, is public disclosure of an organization’s priorities and of the funding received from the private sector. It is helpful to “demonstrate that your organization is willing or has taken a policy position on principle that a corporate donor opposes.” He suggested that an organization have a board-approved policy that allows private-sector funding only if no strings are attached. In concluding, Cooney urged the audience to seek new opportunities for cross-sector alliances.