According to the Associated Press, Texas oil billionaire Lee M. Bass, NBA’s Scottie Pippen, lobbyist Gerald Cassidy and Florida developer Maurice Wilder have something in common: they shared in farm subsidy benefits totaling more than $2.1 million from 2003-2005.
The AP reports that Wilder was the top beneficiary, receiving nearly $1.8 million. He owns a corporation worth $400 million and controls about 180,000 acres of farm and ranch land in several states.
According to the AP, Wilder is also one of those opposed to any government changes that would either put a cap on the amount a farmer could receive or limit subsidies to those farmers whose income is below a certain level. “I don’t think they should change farm subsidies for sure,” Wilder said. “Suppose a farmer was doing $500,000 in business and if he lost $200,000, then he wouldn’t be entitled to any government money. I think that’s wrong.”
This new data was compiled at the request of Congress and obtained from the USDA by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public interest group, under the Freedom of Information Act.
According to EWG’s analysis of the data, just 10 percent of farmers received 66 percent of federal farm payments from 2002-2005. There is a specific dollar amount assigned to the individuals behind the businesses who received subsidy benefits, and the EWG will post this information online beginning Tuesday.
According to the AP, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said that farm bill negotiations are going to be affected by this data. He said: “It’s going to be harder than ever before to defend the status quo. I think the defenders of big payments, their position is going to be severely weakened.”
Ken Cook is the EWG president. He told the AP that he hopes this new information will prompt reforms. “It really does raise the question why shouldn’t we at least impose some sort of reasonable test of means before we disperse all this money,” Cook said.
The current farm bill expires Sept. 30. It limits farmers to $360,000 in subsidies a year, but the loopholes for getting around that cap are many, and it is obvious some very wealthy individuals know how to circumvent the system.
According to the AP, the Bush administration has proposed closing the loopholes and halting subsidies to anyone making more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income. Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have introduced legislation that would cap individual farm payments at $250,000.
Sioux Falls Argus Leader, New data sheds light on farm subsidy payments, http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/F/FARM_SUBSIDIES_MNOL-?SITE=SDSIO&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT