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Cut Spending – But Not My Farm Subsidies!
by Chris Campbell, Amber Hanna and Don Carr
That some members of Congress are farmers is hardly new. Many of the Founding Fathers worked the land. But as the industrial age transformed America’s agrarian society and technology made it possible for fewer farmers to grow more crops on more land, the number of lawmakers actively engaged in agriculture dropped sharply.
We don’t have a firm count of how many farmers are serving in the current Congress, but we do know, based on a recent analysis of the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database, that 23 of them, or their family members, signed up for taxpayer-funded farm subsidy payments between 1995 and 2009.
This would be a good place to point out that just five crops – corn, cotton, rice wheat and soybeans – account for 90 percent of all farm subsidies. Sixty-two percent of American farmers do not receive any direct payments from the federal farm subsidy system, and that group includes most livestock producers and fruit and vegetable growers.
Among the members of the 112th Congress who collect payments from USDA are six Democrats and 17 Republicans. The disparity between the parties is even greater in terms of dollar amounts: $489,856 went to Democrats, but more than 10 times as much, $5,334,565, to Republicans.
One reason for the disproportionate number of Republican lawmakers benefiting from farm subsidy programs is the current scarcity of rural Democrats in Congress – casualties of the Tea Party wave that swept into office in November of 2010. (This was despite the Democrats’ decision to bow to the wishes of the subsidy lobby by passing a status quo 2008 farm bill in a misguided bid to hang on to those seats.)
Several new members of Congress who won with tea party support have been less than eager to talk about farm subsidies ever since the news broke last year that they, or their families, personally benefit from those very taxpayer dollars.
EWG doesn’t believe that the payments to lawmakers are improper or illegal. But the fact that so many more Republicans in Congress receive so much more in farm subsidies than their Democratic colleagues does highlight the GOP’s controversial decision to spare those programs from the budget ax – even as it slashes funding for so many others. Consider:
- In January, David Rogers of Politico, and Phillip Brasher at the Des Moines Register, reported that the Republican Study Committee proposed to eliminate the meager federal funding for an organic food growers’ program without even mentioning the the possibility of cutting spending for entitlements that send checks out to largest producers of corn, cotton and other commodity crops – regardless of need.
- Then last week (March 21), National Journal reported that the Republican-led House Agriculture Committee is backing cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – previously known as food stamps – in the face of record enrollment levels triggered by high unemployment. But not even minimal reductions were proposed to the excessive payments to wealthy farms.
The GOP-led support for subsidies also comes at a time when big commodity farms clearly don’t need taxpayer funding.
The farm sector is white-hot, and has generally fared extremely well as recession gripped the rest of the economy. Farm income and prices for commodity crops are soaring. In 2008, $210,000 was the average household income of farms that received at least $30,000 in government payments that year. But according to the House Agriculture Committee and the Republic Study Committee, payments to those farms should stay in place while the record 43 million Americans enrolled in SNAP – millions of whom are unemployed for the first time – face slashes in the help they get to put food on the table.
It’s important to note that two of the Republican senators who collect subsidies – Charles Grassley of Iowa and Richard Lugar of Indiana – have been long-time leaders in the effort to reform federal farm programs. Both have fought to right the gross inequity of sending 74 percent of taxpayer-funded payments to the largest and wealthiest 10 percent of farm operations and landlords. The top-heavy support for the biggest operations puts smaller family farms at a serious disadvantage and works against a more diverse and resilient food production system that could stand up against wild swings in weather or global markets – and provide Americans with a healthier food supply.
Of course, Democratic members of Congress have historically been subsidy recipients too, notably former House Agriculture Committee ranking member Charles Stenholm of Texas and former Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.
Nor is the phenomenon of lawmakers receiving farm subsidies limited to the federal level. Recent media reports have shown that direct payments are even more common in state legislatures in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Montana, Idaho and South Dakota.
At EWG, we believe that farmers deserve a reasonable safety net to protect against damage from drought, storms and fickle markets. But the American public’s investment portfolio in agriculture needs to change. It’s indefensible to provide subsidies to well-off farmers and landowners, especially in the face of a booming farm economy and a federal budget squeeze. Meanwhile, farmers seeking modest federal support to protect water, land and wildlife are being turned away for lack of funds.
We’re also committed advocates for government transparency, and it’s deeply disturbing that the public’s ability to see who gets what from the federal farm subsidy system has been curtailed by the Obama administration. Under the Bush administration, the rules allowed the public to see through shell corporations and paper entities to identify the part owners of subsidized farms and show where the money ended up. The transparency pertained to lawmakers as well. For this analysis EWG was forced to resort to harvesting data from members’ disclosure forms. That was an arduous but ultimately worthwhile task when advocating for greater accountability and transparency, and it didn’t use to be necessary.
Some Congress members (or their families) collecting federal farm subsidies are major players in the annual farm subsidy drama, others have only bit parts in terms of the amount of subsidies they receive. Overall, the distribution of subsidies among members of Congress reflects the highly distorted distribution of farm subsidies among farmers and landlords in the United States – between 1995 and 2009, 10 percent of subsidy recipients collected 74 percent of all subsidies.
The current salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year, and members enjoy robust health benefits. But whether major or bit players, members of Congress who receive farm subsidies are part of a system that cries out for reform and poses stark choices between helping wealthy landowners or doing right by struggling farm and urban families and the environment.
Member of Congress who received big or small checks from the federal government include:
US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (in alphabetical order)
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.)
Aderholt’s wife, Caroline Aderholt, is a 6.3% owner of McDonald Farms, which received a total of $3,059,878 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. Additionally she received $338 directly from USDA in 2009.
EWG’s estimate of farm subsidies to Caroline Aderholt, using the percentage share information received by USDA, is $191,580.
Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa)
Boswell is listed as directly receiving a total of $16,235 in subsidies between 2001 and 2008.
Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.)
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Campbell received, based on the percentage share information submitted to USDA, is a total of $155 between 2007 and 2009.
Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.)
Costa is listed as a 50 percent owner of Lena E Costa Living Trust, which received $2,494 in federal farm subsidies.
EWG’s estimate of farm subsidy benefits Costa received, based on the percentage share information submitted to USDA, is a total of $1,247 between 2006 and 2007.
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas)
Farenthold received a total of $1,205 in farm subsidies directly from USDA between 1999 and 2005.
Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.)
Fincher is listed as directly receiving a total of $114,519 from USDA between 1995 and 2009. Fincher’s farm, Stephen & Lynn Fincher Farms, is also listed in the EWG database as receiving a total of $3,254,324 between 1999 and 2009. Fincher and his wife Lynn are each 50 percent partners in that farm.
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Fincher and his wife received totaled $3,368,843 between 1995 and 2009.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.)
Hartzler is listed in the EWG Farm Subsidy Database, but no subsidies were directly paid to her. Her husband, Lowell Hartzler, however, is listed as a 98 percent owner of Hartzler Farms, which received a total of $774,489 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. His ownership percentage rose from 53 percent in the years up to 2005 to 98 percent in 2006.
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Lowell Hartzler received, based on the percentage share information (assumed to be 53 percent prior to 2006) supplied to USDA, totaled $469,292 between 1995 and 2009.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ)
Holt is listed as a 10.5 percent owner of Froelich Land Trust No. 1, which received at total of $33,021 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2008. Holt’s wife, Margaret Lancefield, is listed as a 25 percent owner of Lancefield Farm, which received a total of $23,478 in subsidies between 1996 and 2009.
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Holt received, using the percentage share information provided to USDA, is a total of $9,337 between 1995 and 2009.
Rep. Timothy Huelskamp (R-Kansas)
Huelskamp is listed as directly receiving $258 in 2002.
Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.)
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Ms. Klein received, based on the percentage share information supplied to USDA, is a total of $4,733 between 2000 and 2009.
Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa)
Latham is listed as part owner of four entities: 33 percent owner of Latham Seed Co., which received a total of $448,925 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2003; 25 percent owner in Latham Hospital Farm, which received a total of $76,612 between 1995 and 2001; 25 percent owner in Latham Kanawha Farm, which received a total of $15,648 between 1995 and 2001; and 33 percent owner in DTB Farms LLC, which received a total of $432,017 between 2003 and 2008.
EWG’s estimate of farm subsidy benefits Latham received, based on the percentage share information submitted to USDA, is a total of $313,776 between 1995 and 2008.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.)
Lummis is listed as a 31.33 percent owner of Lummis Livestock, which received a total of $47,093 in farm subsidies in between 1996 and 2002. Lummis listed her ownership of Lummis Livestock in her 2009 financial disclosure form.
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Lummis received, based on the percentage share information submitted to USDA, is a total of $14,289 between 1996 and 2002.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas)
Neugebauer is involved in two business entities. He owns 50 percent of Lubbock Land Company Five LTD, which received a total of $3,369 in farm subsidies between 1998 and 1999. He also owns 50 percent of Lubbock Land Company Two LTD, which received a total of $4,608 in farm subsidies in between 1998 and 1999. Neugebauer’s financial disclosure forms for 2009 do not list either company.
EWG’s estimate of farm subsidy benefits Neugubauer received, based on the percentage share information submitted to USDA, is a total of $3,989 between 1998 and 1999.
Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.)
Noem is listed as having a 13.5 percent share in Racota Valley Ranch between 2000 and 2001 and a 16.9 percent share between 2002 and 2008. Racota Valley Ranch received a total of $3,058,152 in farm subsides between 1995 and 2008. Noem’s 2009 financial disclosure form listed her as a partner in Racota Valley Ranch.
EWG’s estimate of farm subsidy benefits Noem received, based on the percentage share information submitted to USDA, is $443,748.
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)
Peterson is listed as receiving a total of $828 between 2005 and 2009.
Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont.)
Rehberg received a total of $7,971 directly from USDA between 1995 and 2002. Rehburg’s wife, Jan Rehberg, also received $51 directly from USDA in 2008. Jan Rehberg also has ownership in two entities that received payments. She has a 33 percent stake in Lenhardt Property LP, which received a total of $517 between 2006 and 2009. She also has a 5.6 percent stake in Teigen Land and Livestock Company, which received a total of $31,890 between 2002 and 2003.
EWG’s estimate of farm subsidy benefits Rehberg and his wife received, based on the percentage share information provided to USDA, is a total of $9,980 between 1995 and 2009.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.)
Stutzman is listed as directly receiving a total of $179,370 in farm subsidies between 1997 and 2009.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas)
Thornberry listed as William M. Thornberry, directly received a total of $4,306 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 1999. Thornberry is also a one-third owner of Thornberry Brothers, which received a total of $65,326 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. His financial disclosure form in 2009 lists him as an owner in Thornberry Brothers Cattle.
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Thornberry received, based on the percentage share information provided to USDA, is a total of $26,081 between 1995 and 2009.
US SENATE (in alphabetical order)
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)
Bennet’s wife, Susan Daggett, is listed in his 2010 financial disclosure forms as 5.5 percent owner of Daggett Farms LP and LMD Farms LP. Daggett Farms LP received a total of $258,916 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2008. LMD Farms LP received a total of $102,291 between 2000 and 2009.
EWG’s estimate of farm subsidy benefits Daggett received, based on the percentage share information provided to USDA, is a total of $19,866 between 1995 and 2009.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
Grassley is listed as directly receiving a total of $263,635 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)
Lugar is listed as a 9.39 percent owner of Lugar Stock Farm. His wife, Charlene Smeltzer Lugar, is listed as a 7.42 percent owner in Lugar Stock Farm. Lugar Stock Farm received a total of $158,892 in farm subsidies in between 1995 and 2009.
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Lugar and his wife received totals $26,710 between 1995 and 2009
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
Tester received a total of $159,549 directly from USDA between 1995 and 2009. Testers’ wife, Sharla, is listed as a 50 percent owner of T-Bone Farms – Tester is listed as owning the other 50 percent. T-Bone farms received a total of $282,754 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009.
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Tester and his wife received, based on percentage share information provided to USDA, is a total of $442,303 between 1995 and 2009.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
EWG’S estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Hatch and his wife received, based on the share information provided to USDA regarding Ms. Hatch’s share of Edries N Hansen Properties LLC, is a total of $909 between 2008 and 2009.
Although Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) was the subject of considerable publicity in 2010 over her family’s farm subsidy payments, she is not in this list since she has not received direct payments from USDA. Her late father-in-law, Paul Bachmann, received $259,332 in subsidies between1995 and 2008. Bachmann’s financial disclosure form lists an interest in Bachmann Family Farm LP, receiving subsidy payments income in the $15,001-$50,000 range in 2009, but for unknown reasons, Bachmann Family Farm LP does not appear in the EWG Farm Subsidy Database. If a person is a part owner in a farm, and that farm receives federal subsidies, USDA indicates that that person is a beneficiary of federal farm programs.