New Orleans Talking to Ernie Dumas, Little Rock’s premier senior journalist, author, and raconteur in the outside patio of his place after a late spring rain and at proper social distance, he mentioned a call from Jane Mayer, the New Yorker, looking for information on a behind-the-scenes, Trump-funding, worker-abusing, Little Rock-based billionaire named Ronald Cameron. He was unknown to me, but I knew Mayer’s work from reading the New Yorker over the years, as well as her recent book unraveling the history of the conservative political and economic powerhouse Koch Brothers. There was no way this would end well or paint Arkansas and its business and political community well. I can now confirm having read the article in the most recent print attention, that my concerns were an understatement.
Cameron owns Mountaire Corporation, one of the nations largest chicken suppliers. He founded the company, incorporated it in the ever-friendly maze of Delaware registrations, and operates plants in five states. Dumas gave me the Cliff Notes background on Cameron. He was the kingpin and banker behind the Arkansas election of arch conservative and frequent warmonger, Senator Tom Cotton. He had set up a private religiously oriented foundation that was giving away truckloads of money to support pro-religious, anti-abortion, conservative zealotry, which was part of what had made him also one of President Trump’s top donors and a stalwart Trump supporter, despite everything else. As Mayer says, Ron Cameron gave millions to Trump’s campaigns, $327 million to his own foundation, The Jesus Fund, and a $1 raise to poultry workers, which he later took back.
Interestingly to me, she tells the story against a backdrop of an anti-union campaign at a huge Mountaire plant in the Delaware–Maryland-Virginia area where the company, and Trump’s National Labor Relations Board seems to be trying to set yet another dangerous precedent by allow a decertification effort supported by the National Right to Work Foundation to go forward despite a contract bar between the company and the local union of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW). She also in some ways is able to update Upton Sinclair’s muckraking that originally looked at meatpacking abuses and conditions in The Jungle by painting a picture of how – with help from Trump, a compliant OSHA, and the pandemic – the industry with bad actors like Cameron has proceeded disastrously back to those times of speedups, worker injuries, and abysmal pay.
The somersaults that Cameron has played with The Jesus Fund as a money and profit-washing machine for his political and religious views takes second place to the worker and consumer abuse of his chicken operations, but it’s a very, very close second. The Ronnie Cameron’s and the Donald Trump’s have taken us back to days of robber barons and merciless exploitation. It was embarrassing for Little Rock and Arkansas to read Mayer’s report, but it’s not really about Arkansas or Little Rock, but the corporate and political dial back of rights and protections and acceleration of inequity and division is a national story and a national tragedy.