Despite strong lead, Banks takes aim at GOP challenger Rust for alleged price-gouging scheme
Banks points to an ongoing federal lawsuit that accuses his opponent’s farm of purposefully limiting egg supplies
U.S. Rep. Jim Banks speaks at an Indiana Republican Party annual dinner on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
U.S. Rep. Jim Banks took aim Tuesday at GOP challenger John Rust, accusing the sixth-generation Indiana egg farmer of funding his campaign with money earned from “price gouging” Hoosiers for eggs.
Banks has already earned an endorsement from the Indiana Republican Party for his 2024 U.S. Senate bid — marking the first time in recent history that the state party has made an endorsement before primary elections for an open seat.
But in his latest campaign release, Banks called on Rust to address an ongoing federal lawsuit that accuses his farm, and others, of an alleged conspiracy to limit the supply of eggs to increase prices for consumers.
“John Rust kicked off his campaign last week and immediately started self-funding thousands of dollars to buy Indiana’s Senate seat. Where did that money come from?” Banks said in a campaign email statement. “I am calling on John Rust to immediately disclose whether he is bankrolling his campaign with money he made ripping off Hoosier families by gouging the price of eggs during the COVID pandemic.”
Rust dismissed those accusations, though, telling the Indiana Capital Chronicle that “it’s pretty clear Jim Banks doesn’t care about the truth and will say anything to win his next political office.”
“These kind of outlandish and patently false comments are right out of the Swamp playbook. It’s why Hoosiers can’t stand career politicians and why they deserve a choice in the Republican Primary,” he told the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “For generations, Rose Acre Farms has employed thousands of Hoosiers provided high quality, cost efficient eggs to Americans across the country. And we’re committed to continuing that service.”
Both candidates have launched 2024 bids for U.S. Senate, with each hoping to take Indiana’s seat currently held by Sen. Mike Braun. The sitting senator is leaving the position to run for Indiana governor.
Rust, an openly gay conservative Republican who chairs the Seymour-based Rose Acre Farms, entered the race for the GOP nomination last month.
But because Rust doesn’t qualify to run as a Republican based only on his primary voting history, he needs additional approval from his county party chair. Indiana Republican Party officials said earlier this month that Jackson County Chair Amanda Lowery had indicated she would not approve his candidacy.
Food processors vs. egg producers
Kraft Foods and other food processors are currently amid a years-long court battle against egg producers, including Rust’s Rose Acre Farms, over the alleged egg price-gouging conspiracy.
The “big egg buyers” maintain that the egg suppliers agreed to cut domestic supply by increasing export quantities — a strategy that included selling the exported eggs for less than the current American market price.
Story continues below.Kraft_v_EggProducers_ruling
The egg suppliers in question collectively cut domestic supply by increasing export quantities, so the exported eggs were sold for less than the American market price at the time, according to allegations laid out in court documents.
The original lawsuit dates back to 2011. An amended complaint claims the price gouging took place between 1999 and 2008.
In the latest filing, U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger issued an opinion Aug. 21, ruling in favor of food processors, including Kraft, The Kellogg Company, General Mills and Nestle. Proceedings in the case at large are ongoing, however.
“Exporting eggs at lower prices, instead of selling the eggs domestically at higher prices, does not sound like a winning business strategy,” Seeger wrote. “But as plaintiffs tell it, the egg exports were a back-door way to decrease domestic supply.”
The lawsuit also includes allegations that the egg producers adopted welfare standards as “a ruse to reduce the total space available to house egg-laying hens,” Seeger said. According to the complaint, they are also alleged to have used several supply cutting measures, including an agreement to “reduce the national flock by seven million hens in an effort to increase prices.”
Rust told the Capital Chronicle his ability to comment on pending litigation is limited, citing family farm policy. Still, he pointed to prices in the 1950s, when his dad sold a dozen eggs at the Indianapolis farmer’s market for 50 cents. Despite inflation, Rust maintained his family only gets $1.30 per dozen today.
“Because we’re a large farm, we get sued all the time — that’s just part of business,” he said. “You can take all that stuff and make anyone look dark and evil, but it’s patently untrue. They’re grasping at straws.”
“Jim Banks will do anything to win his next office. To him, that is more important than the truth,” Rust continued, also noting that “two previous juries have already determined that Rose Acres’ conduct was absolutely lawful.”
He further amounted Banks’ latest campaign move to fear.
“He’s scared to death. The Republican establishment in Washington is scared to death of my campaign, and they are working so hard to keep me off the ballot because they know I can and will win in the primary,” Rust said. “Banks is just a terrible candidate. They’re working so hard to protect him because he just will not stand up to competition. They beat everyone else down that has tried to enter the race — that’s not a democracy. People are entitled to a choice.”
Banks keeps strong lead
Despite his latest shot at Rust, Bank faces no serious GOP challengers so far.
His campaign has by far raised the most cash, hauling in just over $1 million from April through June, according to his most recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing. And he reported raising $1.2 million in the three months prior.
Besides Rust, at least two other Republicans have filings online — Erik Benson and Wayne Harmon — but have recorded no donations and no cash on hand.
The two most serious Democrat candidates for the seat include former state lawmaker and lobbyist Marc Carmichael and Keith Potts, a member of Indianapolis’ City-County Council.
All candidates have to gather enough signatures to appear on the ballot.
Even so, Indiana law requires Democratic and Republican candidates to have voted with their party in the past two primary elections, or receive approval from the party chair in the county where they reside, in order to get their name approved for a primary election ballot.
Although Rust registered as a Republican with the Federal Election Commission in July, he did not vote in the past two Republican primaries.
He told the Capital Chronicle he still plans to file paperwork in January to get on the Republican ballot, even though his candidacy is likely to be challenged. If that happens, Rust would then have to request a hearing before the Indiana Election Commission.
“I’m not quitting. I intend to follow the law, and we are going to start, very soon, gathering signatures. I want to get signatures in every county of Indiana. And I want people to know that I am working hard for this race, because I want to work for them,” Rust said. “You have to keep pushing forward when you’re doing the right thing. We are absolutely doing the right thing in our family business, and I’m doing this for Hoosiers who have helped build my family’s business.”
The primary election is scheduled for May 7, 2024. The general election will follow on Nov. 5, 2024.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.