Friday, August 24, 2007

McDonald's and nudity

Yesterday brought two interesting headlines: McDonald’s spent almost $170,000 during the first half of 2007 on national-level lobbying, and Brattleboro, Vt., voted to legalize public nudity. But why waste time on the ho-hum? Let’s talk McDonald’s.

Because it’s the news about McDonald’s that’s really scintillating. Once upon a time, the burger giant was cursed by other restaurateurs for not adding its powerful name to high-profile campaigns against detrimental governmental measures, like federal wage hikes. Ray Kroc had famously remarked that if he saw a competitor drowning, he’d stick a hose in the lout’s mouth. Why abandon that mindset for a common defense? Instead of joining competitors on the ramparts, McDonald’s fought behind the scenes or on its own, if it joined an industrywide campaign at all.

Now, the Associated Press reported, just the home office is spending at the rate of $340,000 a year—huge money by lobbying standards—to shape federal regulations on menu labeling, immigration and food safety, among other issues. Some franchisees probably add to that sum with their own contributions to political action committees and other government-related causes.

The A.P. story was based on a regulatory filing. Similar disclosures are probably submitted as a standard procedure by powerhouses like Yum! Brands, Darden or OSI. And yet the news service treated the McDonald’s filing as a revelation.

Which, of course, leads us to the Vermont situation. A news brief about the Brattleboro’s new briefs-optional statute appeared in no less of an institution than The New York Times. Curiously, the same edition also carried a story about efforts elsewhere to permit the arrest of individuals who are inappropriately interested in the public show of flesh, such as when a woman in a skirt walks up a staircase.

I don’t think those two developments are contradictory, since the latter is intended to provide a legal basis for cracking down on true peeping toms. But some libertarians might believe so.

But I do think it’s significant the newswires were filled with tidbits about immigration and public-health proposals on the same day the A.P. reported solely on McDonald’s attempts to factor the industry’s interests into those discussions.

The burger giant may have been slow in assuming the industry’s standard, but it certainly seems to be leading the charge today.

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