Clinton fundraiser has controversial environmental record

By Sam Pearson | 04/07/2016 07:31 AM EDT

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did not, as was described in early news reports, spend the night of the Wisconsin primary at a New York fundraiser with energy executives.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did not, as was described in early news reports, spend the night of the Wisconsin primary at a New York fundraiser with energy executives.

Instead, Clinton dined Tuesday night at the Bronx home of chemical executive Jack Bendheim. He’s a longtime political bundler, former deputy chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and CEO of Phibro Animal Health Corp. in Teaneck, N.J. His company has been embroiled in several environmental controversies.

Bendheim has been a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton dating to former President Clinton’s campaigns. He raised more than $100,000 for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run, then switched to support President Obama when Clinton ended her campaign.


"I’m a loyal soldier," Bendheim told Forward, a Jewish newspaper, in 2008. "I definitely will be supportive of whomever the nominee is."

According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Bendheim has given tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and committees in this election cycle alone.

The earlier mistaken report by a New York Times reporter on Twitter that Clinton had spent Tuesday evening at a fundraiser with "energy executives" drew an outcry from supporters of her opponent in the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Clinton had already drawn criticism this week from some activists over her comments to a Greenpeace USA organizer, captured on video, that she was "so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me" over campaign contributions she has received from employees of fossil fuel companies (Greenwire, April 1).

But even though Bendheim isn’t an energy executive, his company has drawn scrutiny and criticism from environmental groups in the past.

Phibro’s business — with animal health, mineral nutrition and performance products divisions — centers on producing antibiotics for farm animals, vaccines and performance chemicals. The company reports annual net sales of more than $650 million.

Though Phibro specifies the chemicals it produces for agriculture and health, it does not explain in documents made available to investors what it produces for industrial use.

California regulators at the state Department of Toxic Substances Control have struggled in recent years to manage facilities like Phibro’s performance chemicals plant, which uses recycled hazardous waste as a feedstock. Lawmakers and interest groups found that the agency was allowing many hazardous waste facilities regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to operate for years or decades on expired permits.

The most infamous of the expired plants was Exide Technologies, the battery recycler found to have contaminated soil at as many as 10,000 homes in Los Angeles County (Greenwire, Aug. 19, 2015). But Phibro’s plant in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., has its own environmental problems, environmental groups contend.

This performance chemicals plant in Southern California is "a serial environmental violator," environmental group Consumer Watchdog alleged in a 2013 report, "Golden Wasteland," citing its record of repeated waste storage citations and expired permits.

Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin confirmed yesterday that the fundraiser was hosted by Bendheim, but declined to answer follow-up questions about the company’s environmental record. Phibro representatives couldn’t be reached for comment.

Phibro has previously described its activities in Santa Fe Springs as limited to cleaning up "historical" waste left by previous owners. But the company faces lawsuits from homeowners and a claim by U.S. EPA that groundwater from its plant has commingled with the polluted groundwater of the nearby Omega Chemical Corp. Superfund site.

The company "cannot predict with any degree of certainty what, if any, liability Phibro-Tech or the other subsidiaries may ultimately have for investigation, remediation and the EPA oversight and response costs associated with the affected groundwater plume," it said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year.

Activities at the site "do not cause toxic dust, noxious odors or groundwater pollution," Phibro-Tech Inc. President Dwight Glover told The Sacramento Bee in 2012.

Residents near the California plant have campaigned for years to get the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to not renew its operating permit. The plant is one of many to continue operating on expired permits — a practice state legislators later criticized as indicative of lax oversight at the state agency (Greenwire, Feb. 22, 2013).

Many residents suspect their groundwater is contaminated with harmful chemicals from the plant, said Liza Tucker, a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog and the author of the "Golden Wasteland" report.

However, regulators — similar to what initially occurred in Flint, Mich., which has become a major political issue this year — have not told residents there is any health risk from drinking the water, Tucker said.

"We’re going to die from one contaminant or another," resident Ben Martinez said of the company at a public meeting earlier this year, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Farm antibiotics a key sales driver

Another of Phibro’s concerns is pending legislation in Congress, the "Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act," which would aim to stop the routine use of antibiotics in agriculture and is a key agenda item for animal welfare and sustainable agriculture organizations.

The bill is a response to concerns among many advocacy groups that overuse of antibiotics is contributing to bacterial resistance to drugs needed to protect human health.

Hillary Clinton told the Humane Society Legislative Fund in a 2007 questionnaire that she supported the bill. However, she was not one of its co-sponsors in the three times it was introduced when she served in the Senate.

Clinton took other steps to address the issue of antibiotic resistance, a campaign aide said, including pushing for an amendment to the fiscal 2007 appropriations bill for the Food and Drug Administration calling for more research on the issue. The appropriations bill was later withdrawn.

"The fact is diseases that were once easily treated and cured by antimicrobial drugs are becoming more difficult to treat," Clinton said on the Senate floor in 2006. "Resistance to these drugs has been linked to the overuse of these drugs in animal treatment."

The legislation’s most recent incarnation came in 2015, when Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) put forward a version.

"To date, such bills have not had sufficient support to become law," Phibro noted in its 2015 10-K report to investors and the SEC. "Should statutory, regulatory or other developments result in restrictions on the sale of our products, it could have a material adverse impact on our financial position, results of operations and cash flows."