Minnesota Democrat Jeff Ettinger says he "know[s] how to fight inflation" because his former company made food "affordable." That company is facing an array of lawsuits that say it conspired to inflate the price of pork.
Ettinger served as CEO of Hormel Foods from 2005 to 2016. During that time, Hormel conspired with other pork processors to run a "classic … price fixing scheme" to drive up the price of ham and bacon, active lawsuits facing the company argue. While Hormel has said the allegations are "completely without merit," one of the companies involved in the purported scheme agreed to a $42 million settlement in early July.
Now, Ettinger is running in an August special election to replace the late Jim Hagedorn after the Republican congressman died in February. Ettinger has attempted to fight concerns of record-high inflation under President Joe Biden by touting his time at Hormel—in a July 10 ad, the Democrat said he "know[s] how to fight inflation" as his "business was making food affordable." He went on to repeat the claim twice in the following week.
The price-fixing lawsuits that loom over Hormel, however, could undermine Ettinger's ability to navigate a perilous political climate that is driven by voters' concerns over the economy. According to a June MinnPost poll, 94 percent of Minnesotans say rising gas and grocery prices have made their lives more "difficult" or "inconvenient." On a national level, meanwhile, Americans view inflation as the top problem facing the country and believe that problem is Biden's fault—64 percent of likely U.S. voters say the Biden administration's policies have increased inflation, according to a March Rasmussen poll.
Ettinger declined to comment.
According to the series of lawsuits against Hormel, the food processing company in 2009 began sharing sensitive information with its competitors about its "profits, prices, costs, and production" in an attempt to drive up pork prices. A who's who of grocery and restaurant chains have joined the lawsuits, the first of which was filed in 2018—prominent plaintiffs include Kroger, Hy-Vee, Buffalo Wild Wings, Jimmy John's, and Sonic Drive-In.
Ettinger, who grew up in Los Angeles, made big money from his time at Hormel—his total compensation in 2016 alone was $36 million, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Democrat's financial disclosure also shows tens of millions of dollars in investments, and half of the roughly $800,000 Ettinger has raised came from his own pocket.
Ettinger's wealth sparked one of his primary opponents, small business owner Rick DeVoe, to accuse Ettinger of being out of touch with everyday voters in Minnesota's First Congressional District, who DeVoe said are sick of "corporate malfeasance." Still, Ettinger said in his July ad that he understands why Minnesotans "feel squeezed."
Ettinger used his financial advantage to emerge from the special election's May 24 primary and will face Republican Brad Finstad on August 9. Finstad, a former state legislator, served in former president Donald Trump's Department of Agriculture and has raised $614,000 to Ettinger's $805,000.