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Real Clear Politics: Meet America's Elite Farm Subsidy Club

August 8, 2018 08:00 AM
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Meet America's Elite Farm Subsidy Club

By Adam Andrzejewski 
August 8, 2018
 
This summer, the U.S. House and Senate each passed respective versions of a new farm bill. Not surprisingly, loopholes allow non-farmers to reap big benefits. As the two chambers work together to draft final legislation, hold on to your wallet.
 
Since the inception of farm subsidies, high-powered officials and celebrities have received lavish payments. OpenTheBooks’ honorary chairman, Dr. Tom Coburn, demonstrated this during his tenure as a U.S. senator: He issued a report in 2011 that found government-funded celebrity farmers included former NBA star Scottie Pippen, media mogul Ted Turner, Tony Award-winning rock icon Bruce Springsteen, and fellow rocker Jon Bon Jovi.
 
Last year, even billionaire businessman Glen Taylor – the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves – received $116,502 in federal farm subsidies. Does Mr. Taylor, No. 350 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, really need taxpayer funding for his egg and dairy farm in Iowa?
 
Farm subsidies were never intended to become welfare for the wealthy. During the Great Depression, they were created to keep the small family farm afloat and ensure a stable national food supply. Today these subsidies have grown so lucrative that wealthy investors, large corporations, and farm-estate heirs use taxpayer money to maximize their personal returns.
 
Today, our organization, American Transparency, released its OpenTheBooks oversight report, "Harvesting U.S. Farm Subsidies."  The report catalogues $13.2 billion in these subsidies flowing to nearly 958,000 recipients in fiscal year 2017. Using our interactive mapping platform at OpenTheBooks.com, taxpayers can search all recipients receiving $100,000 or more in FY2017 farm subsidies by ZIP Code.  
 
Consider some examples of the modern-day farm subsidy:
  • Residents in America’s five most populated cities received nearly $17 million over a three-year period, including Chicago ($7.7 million), Miami ($4.5 million), New York City ($2.8 million), Los Angeles ($1.6 million), and Philadelphia ($309,000).
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  • In fiscal year 2017, $4.8 million flowed to the upper-middle-class elites in America’s most affluent ZIP Codes. It’s hard to believe folks in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood are farming, but these two ZIP Codes received $139,080 and $94,090 over the last three years, respectively.
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  • In Washington, D.C., more than 350 recipients received $1.7 million in fiscal year 2017 farm subsidies. Van Boyette, a sugar industry lobbyist and lawyer, received nearly $32,000 through a controlled corporation last year.
We discovered more than $626 million in federal farm subsidy payments during the last three fiscal years flowed to recipients in urban areas with populations exceeding 250,000. Just last year, a fortunate 400 farmers across America pulled down $1 million or more in farm subsidies each. Pinicon Farms in Iowa received the largest sum: $9.9 million.
 
Taxpayers even forked over $1.8 billion to pay farmers not to farm their land. Through the Conservation Reserve Program, farmers received rental payments in exchange for not farming land deemed environmentally sensitive – and these contracts can last 10 to 15 years.
 
Why can’t Congress rein in the largess and stop farm subsidy abuses? Well, our auditors found 12 members of Congress collected up to $637,059 in subsidy payments last year alone.
 
In fact, lawmakers crafting the policies on the agriculture committees are, many times, large recipients of their subsidy. The list includes Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) with $1.3 million, Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) with $20,420, Robert Gibbs (R-Ohio) with $7,660, and Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) with $58,210, and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) with $16,190 (payments between 2015-2017).
 
We also learned that in 2011 the Internal Revenue Service reported that 172,801 deceased farmers received $1.1 billion over a six-year period. It certainly looks as if farmers – like their farm subsidies – never die.
 
Congress wants to wrap up the farm bill as soon as possible, perhaps before taxpayers know what it contains. If you don’t like funding a massive subsidy program to wealthy, urban farmers, now is the time to tell Congress that you, not Springsteen, are the boss.
 
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