Curt Vander Meer, CEO of Indianapolis-based Endangered Species Chocolate, had traveled to Washington, D.C., before as a tourist, but a trip he took in April was for a new reason—lobbying. Vander Meer went to our nation’s capital to talk to Indiana lawmakers about supporting a “strong and fully funded” Endangered Species Act. His chocolate company donates 10 percent of its annual profits to organizations that support endangered wildlife, so it’s a topic that hits close to home. The trip was coordinated with the Hoosier Environmental Council and Defenders of Wildlife.
Whom did you meet with while you were there?
I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with [Sen. Joe] Donnelly, and I had the opportunity to meet with the legislative assistants for both [Rep. Susan] Brooks and Sen. [Todd] Young.
There were 19 individuals that were there as guests of Defenders of Wildlife representing 10 different states. I was the only representative from the state of Indiana, and I was the only business owner.
Why was it important to talk to lawmakers now?
We have seen legislation discussed that would erode some of the strong provisions of the Endangered Species Act. And we know that the farm bill—a significant piece of legislation—will be making its way through both the Senate and the House.
This was a time to get in front of our representatives and to ask them to support a very strong and fully funded Endangered Species Act, and really look at some of these provisions that are being talked about and let them know that this act in its original form is 99 percent effective. So looking at steps to erode it could erode the effectiveness of the act as well.
What sort of response did you receive?
Everyone that I met with, whether it be the senator himself or the legislative assistants, they all believe that conservation is important. And they all recognize how conservation and pollination … those issues are important to the Hoosier farmers and the Hoosier agricultural business and such. They were all very receptive to listen to one of their constituents and to hear our advocacy for those bills.
Are there any specific issues with the legislation that you’re concerned about?
We know that the use of pesticides is forefront on the farm bill that’s going to be discussed. And so looking at how the EPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would work together is important to those that want to keep a strong Endangered Species Act in place. And to recognize that the system of checks and balances that currently exists has been effective. Ideas that would allow the EPA to not need to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we would oppose such a change.
Why is this something you and your company care about?
This company is founded on the principle of giving back, and we’ve been blessed to be able to give back $1.4 million over the last three years, or $5 million we’ve donated since 2005. And we do that because we have consumers that want to be actively engaged in conservation. So they can come alongside of us through a purchase of our delicious-tasting chocolate and engage in conservation.
This is a nonpartisan issue. When 90 percent of voters are in favor of it, and you see a bill that’s 99 percent effective, we’re advocating for keeping that strong and fully funded.•