Forbes: Kicking City Slickers off the Federal Farm Subsidy 3_Farm

February 17, 2015 03:01 PM
By: Adam Andrzejewski, Chairman of American Transparency

There’s an old saying, “When the law’s an ass, somebody has to kick it.”

With tens of millions of dollars in federal farm subsidies flowing into urban areas – where there are no farms – Congress empowered the U.S. Department of Agriculture to more-clearly define the word “farmer.”

With a new definition coming soon, many wealthy urban residents just might be booted off of their substantial federal subsidy.  It couldn’t happen fast enough.

Last year, our organization, American Transparency at, issued our Federal Transfer Report on farm subsidies. We studied three urban areas where there are no farms: New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. We found they were awash in federal farm subsidies.

The federal farm program was originally intended to “protect the national food supply” and “preserve the family farm.” Yet, our findings showed wealthy investors piggy-backing on a growing government program - the largess of farm subsidies had become part of their investment portfolio. Many of these wealthy investors don’t live in “rural areas,” but instead utilize “farm managers” and taxpayer dollars to maximize return on their “farm” investments.

The amounts are significant with the top 10,806 entities receiving billions. For example, just 491 entities received over $1 million in farm subsidies amounting to over $725.7 million (2008-2011) and averaged $1.734 million each.

In New York City, Wall Street financiers, Rockefellers, wealthy heirs and Upper East Side recipients all received subsidies. Even the non-profit National Audubon Society collected nearly $1 million in subsidies including New York tobacco subsidies and Minnesota lamb slaughter aid.

In Chicago, IL, the city ranks seventh out of over 1,200 municipalities in the state in the receipt of federal farm subsidies.  It’s 930 individual entities collecting the subsidy including wealthy traders at the Board of Trade and downtown duck charities reaping millions. Even Reverend Minister Louis Farrakhan, the founder of the Nation of Islam, opened up two charities and collected over $317,000 of farm subsidies and commodities loans during a sixteen year period.  Interestingly, the IRS and Illinois Attorney General have no record of either charity.

In Washington, D.C., the U.S.Department of Agriculture executives and lobbyists - the people who created and manage these transfers - participate in the subsidy largess.  Now, Congress charged them as the regulators who will write the new definition of “farmer.”

So who are the DC elite pocketing the farm subsidies? Thomas J. Vilsack- current Agriculture Secretary in the President Barack Obama administration is taking his farm subsidy check in Iowa. Vilsack is the recipient of $20,046 of farm subsidies between 2008 and 2011, most while he’s been Secretary.

The subsidies are bi-partisan: William T. Hawks- former Under-Secretary of Agriculture of Marketing and Regulatory Programs in the George W. Bush administration has received over $70,527 in farm subsidy relating to his ownership of Mississippi farm interests. Most of the subsidy related to conservation payments as well as cotton subsidies. Sen. Chuck E. Grassley received over $61,284 in subsidy collected at his Arlington, VA condo for his farm operation in Iowa.

Of course, the lobbyists get in on the action too. Using our data at, Susan Ferrechio at the Washington Examiner found that Van Boyette is a top lobbyist representing agricultural interests who’s received $83,194 for his farmland in Iowa. Other top lobbyists include the lobbying giant Gerald Cassady ($6,780); former twelve term Rep. Charlie Stenholm ($12,576); and Carlyle Thorsen ($8,164), a former top aide to House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

So, the big question is reform. Can the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut the rich, land invested, city slicker off of the federal government’s subsidy?

The stakes for taxpayers are high.

According to a 2011 report by U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), “Subsidies of the Rich and Famous,” the IRS and USDA determined that $316 million in farm subsidies were paid to millionaires (2002-2009). The gross majority of those payments went to millionaire recipients in urban areas. In Coburn’s report, rockers Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, media mogul Ted Turner, and former NBA star Scottie Pippen were highlighted for receiving large subsidies.

Billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake. The ass needs a kick.


Note: Adam Andrzejewski is the chairman of American Transparency and the founder of He is the author of the federal oversight report, Federal Transfer- Farm Subsidies in Urban Areas.

See the federal transfer into your local ZIP code. Key your ZIP code into our free Open The Books app for Apple & Droid platforms here and quickly track all disclosed federal farm subsidies flowing into your hometown since 2008. Or type-in any wealthy ZIP code: Beverly Hills 90212; Winnetka, IL 60093; Miami Beach, FL 33109; Palm Beach, FL 33480; Sea Island, GA 31561; Park City, UT 84060.

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