WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve King of Iowa has little use for the Humane Society, particularly when it comes to laws designed to give calves, pregnant sows and hens a little more freedom on the farm.
The organization's political arm is devoting the vast majority of its campaign budget this year – nearly $500,000 so far – to ensuring King doesn't return for a sixth term.
The Humane Society Legislative Fund calls its campaign Stop the King of Cruelty. Its ads take King to task for his opposition to bills related to dogfighting and requiring emergency management offices to account for pets and service dogs in their preparedness plans.
"He has made himself the self-appointed leader to oppose animal welfare laws in the House of Representatives," Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said of the conservative Iowa congressman. "He routinely speaks against animal protection policies and tries to defeat them."
King's campaign says the Humane Society is going after him because he's an effective advocate for the state's farmers.
"The (Humane Society) and their legislative fund has a clear agenda of passing more burdensome government regulations down to America's farmers and Congressman King has been particularly effective in working to get government out of the way and allow the Iowa ag industry to produce," said campaign spokesman Jimmy Centers.
The Humane Society's ads focus on pets but don't address the clashes they've had with King on farming issues. Iowa is by far the largest egg-producing state in the nation, and King's district plays a big role in that distinction. King led the effort this past summer to scuttle efforts that a few states are making to increase the quality and size of cages for hens.
California has been a leader in the effort. The California Legislature approved a bill that extends more expansive cage requirements to all eggs sold in California, regardless of where the eggs are produced. Iowa produces about 30 percent of the eggs purchased in California.
King successfully included in the House farm bill a measure that would bar California and other states from essentially exporting their cage standards to agricultural producers in Iowa. King says that California's law violates the clause in the Constitution that gives Congress the power to regulate commerce among the states.
His amendment will "ensure that radical organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA are prohibited from establishing a patchwork of restrictive state laws aimed at slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence," King said after the House Agriculture Committee passed it.
King is running against Democrat Christie Vilsack in a newly redrawn district that now includes the college town of Ames. He hasn't faced a tough re-election before but has one on his hands this time, prompting the Humane Society to weigh in.
The Humane Society tried to give Vilsack a $1,000 donation, but the campaign declined the money. It has a policy of not accepting donations from groups that lobby the U.S. Agriculture Department, headed by Vilsack's husband, Tom. He is a former governor of Iowa.
The Humane Society's ads don't touch on the battles they've waged with King on agriculture issues. They're focused primarily on stands King has taken on dogfighting, noting that he voted against a 2007 bill making it a felony to transport animals across state lines for fighting purposes and voted against a 2012 amendment that prohibits bringing a child to organized animal fights.
Centers said King condemns all forms of animal fighting. His problem with the legislation cited by the Humane Society is that dogfighting is already illegal in all 50 states and bringing a child to a dogfight constitutes endangerment.
"How many times do we need to make something illegal if it's illegal?" Centers said. "Why create more and more government bureaucracies and legislation when something is already illegal?"
In its scorecard rating members of Congress based on their voting record and sponsorship of bills, the Humane Society gave King a score of zero for the current Congress. He has a lifetime score of 8 percent.
Meanwhile, King got a seal of approval this year from the Iowa Farm Bureau, which designated him a "friend of agriculture."