Twelve potential Republican presidential contenders will sit down with an influential businessman on a public stage in Des Moines on Saturday to discuss the state of U.S. agriculture before 1,000 Iowans and scores of media outlets.
The host of the event is Bruce Rastetter, "a multimillionaire few people outside the state have ever heard of," Politico reported Tuesday.
It is likely that in the coming months, many more people will be learning who Rastetter is —
a Republican Party kingmaker whose influence will help shape political events in the Hawkeye State leading up to next year's presidential caucuses.
And on Saturday, he hosts the first-ever Iowa Agriculture Summit —
an event to promote farm policy in a state where there are 10 pigs for every voter —
at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
Rastetter will talk to each candidate onstage for 20 minutes before 1,000 Iowans and dozens of media outlets about subjects like EPA regulations, ethanol, and genetically modified food. Candidates in attendance will include Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee.
Rastetter, 58, is a self-made millionaire who is Iowa's top Republican donor at both the federal and state level, donating nearly half a million and $1.1 million, respectively, since 2003, according to campaign finance disclosures.
These amounts, Politico ads, "are likely a fraction of his total giving to groups that don't have to disclose their donors."
While many Iowa political observers depict him as a political "kingmaker," Rastetter protests that they exaggerate his political power.
"Clearly, not everyone I have backed has won," Rastetter said.
But over the past decade, Rastetter has worked hard to make himself one of the state's most powerful political players, building pork and ethanol agribusiness empires and then forging close relationships with Iowa’s political elite, like current Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.
Rastetter contributed generously to Republicans outside Iowa, giving tens of thousands to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the National Republican Senatorial Committee over the past few election cycles.
In 2014, Rastetter maxed out in contributing to successful conservative Republican Senate candidates like Dan Sullivan in Alaska, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, and Joni Ernst in Iowa.
Rastetter has also developed his share of business and political enemies in recent years, ranging from environmentalists who don’t like his hog operations to university advocates who dislike the way his money has helped extend his influence at the state’s public universities, where he leads the board of regents.
Rastetter, whose company has a financial interest in agriculture subsidies, "is eager to insert farm policy into the 2016 conversation," Politico notes.
But he coyly downplays the significance of his own policy positions. "It's not my opinion that matters, it's the candidates," Rastetter told the news website.
For now, Rastetter said he is not endorsing a candidate and emphasizes a desire to be a neutral host at his Agriculture Summit.
That marks a change from four years ago, when he flew a group of powerful Iowa political players to New Jersey in an effort to appeal personally to Gov. Chris Christie to enter the 2012 presidential race.
Of the seven who made that May 2011 trip to meet with Christie,
two remain loyal supporters of the governor, four are undecided and one does not plan to back any candidate in 2016, The Associated Press reported last month.
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