Special Report

The Pigs of Pigford

The most naked fleecing of American taxpayers in recent memory -- brought to you by the Democratic Party.

By 4.30.13

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The Washington Times covered it in 2001. And so did Fox News. Jennifer Rubin wrote about it in 2008, and many writers on these pages have mentioned it since then. In 2011, Andrew Breitbart made it one of his most cared-about causes, following from his outing of on-again off-again, (formerly?) racist, USDA employee Shirley Sherrod (about whom more in a minute).

Congressman Steve King (R-IA) has for years been a lonely voice willing to risk charges of “racist!” coming his way when he fought against it.

But when a fraud against the federal government and all American taxpayers is as big and as obvious as what has resulted from the Pigford case against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), even the New York Times, protector of Democrats, must eventually take notice.

So, from the better-late-than-never files, investigative reporter Sharon LaFraniere’s remarkable article in the Grey Lady is a welcome read: more than 5,000 words explaining -- despite the editor’s misleading title of “U.S. Opens Spigot After Farmers Claim Discrimination” -- how a Clinton-era program is being used by Democratic administrations to buy minority votes in the South, bilking taxpayers of billions of dollars, with related cases being used to buy votes of Hispanics, Native Americans, and women across the nation.

It is the most naked fleecing of the American taxpayer in recent memory even if, in the single billions of dollars, there are larger incinerations of the public fisc being perpetrated by our government.

The work by Breitbart and LaFraniere should be read to understand the depth of the fraud, though for anyone already inclined toward mistrusting not just the ability but the desire of government to protect taxpayers from naked fraud, what you learn will make your blood boil as you wonder whether this isn’t really a story out of Venezuela.

A summary, based on multiple sources including those linked above:

In 1999, the Clinton administration, led by Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, agreed to pay $50,000 (per person) to black farmers who claimed to have been discriminated against in applications for USDA loans between 1981 and 1996.

Claims had to be filed by October, 12 1999, with, according to testimony before Congress, early estimates that “approximately 2,500 to 5,000 Black farmers would have claims.” However, by the cutoff date, 23,313 claims had been filed.

The huge number of hands out for checks was due in part to the USDA advertising free money with almost no qualifications truly required (sound familiar?): According to the Government Accountability Office, “The parties to the case had agreed to an advertising campaign which included 62 commercials, advertisements in 142 newspapers, as well as advertisements in TV Guide and Jet Magazine.”

By 2001, despite the first deadline having passed, about 40,000 claims were filed. This despite there being, according to Census data (as reported by the Congressional Research Service), fewer than 19,000 black “principal farm operators” in 1992 and about 29,000 “enumerated African American farm operators” in 2002 (the difference being due to the fact that some farms are operated by more than one person). Of these, it is hard to imagine that more than a third would have applied for a USDA loan and even that number would have substantially exceeded what even the plaintiff’s attorneys claimed to expect.

According to Congressman Steve King, whom I interviewed (podcast here) about Pigford on my radio show on Sunday, in a conversation with a black USDA administrator several years ago, King asked whether there had actually been discrimination against black farmers in the USDA loan program. The reply was a convincing “yes”…which Rep. King himself has come to believe. However, when the congressman followed up with a question about how many cases of discrimination the administrator believed existed, the answer was fifty. Not fifty thousand, just fifty. It is reasonable to believe that the true number may have been higher, but nothing like the tens of thousands of pigs chasing the “sooooey!” calls from Democrats writing checks with other people’s money.

It is worth noting that the USDA has never fired anybody for discrimination.

So how, you might ask, were so many claims made? Because the consent decree says that one need not have actually been a farmer, but that even having “intended to farm” is enough to qualify you to put your hand out if you claim discrimination. Furthermore, because the USDA did not keep good records of loan applications, claimants in Pigford do not have to prove that they were denied, or even applied for, a loan. They simply had to claim it, with the burden of proof seeming to be on the government -- which was eager to pay anyway -- to show that a claim was invalid. (Indeed about 30 percent of claims were denied, but the true level of fraudulent claims was likely far higher.)

And why did government go along with it? In part because, as Andrew Breitbart documented, Southern black political activists suggested that handing out $50,000 checks would help Al Gore win the 2000 election.

But wait, there’s more!

In 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama pushed for allowing late claims to be processed and setting up another billion-dollar payoff fund, in what became known as Pigford II, setting off a free-for-all. As of February 2006, “over 97,000 people had filed claims under the consent decree or requests to file late claims.”

As chronicled by Lee Stranahan and others, there are people such as Thomas Burrell (mentioned in the Times article as well) who have spent the better part of the last decade traveling the South, encouraging people to commit obvious fraud by applying for Pigford checks. Any why not, since the FBI has “abandoned all but a few” of the criminal investigations it opened following the Agriculture Department’s inspector general “referr(ing) 503 cases involving 2,089 individuals to the F.B.I.”

At this point, it looks as if the government is likely to pay out over $4 billion to claimants, of whom many or most did no more farming than “keeping a potted tomato plant,” as one cynic put it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have politicians hand your group of friends a wad of cash made up of one $10 bill taken from every single man, woman, and child in the United States? Seems that you can do it if your friends are Democrats and you don’t have the misfortune to be a white male.

Congress has not allocated money for most of the $4 billion, so the Department of Justice says it will use the Judgment Fund, basically a slush fund that collects money in the form of fines against corporations and, with cash left over after paying court judgments, buys votes by making payments to favored political constituencies. Probably unconstitutional, and probably difficult for Congress to stop until it gets control of that Fund despite the Justice Department’s having been sued by Judicial Watch in 2010 for similar behavior.

As if this weren’t enough, the Obama-led extension of Pigford set off a rush of other lawyers and politicians looking to pick taxpayers’ pockets: Suddenly, groups of Hispanics, women, and Native Americans each made claims that they were (or “intended to be”) farmers, had also been discriminated against, and are entitled to a check from the government. (In 2006, an appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that rejected certification of Hispanic farmers as a class. Yet the Obama administration still wants to pay them.)

Again, the New York Times article and Breitbart’s exposé are must-reads to understand just how rotten to the core are the Pigford situation and the taxpayer-looting cancers it spawned. (One fascinating tangent of Breitbart’s research is that Shirley Sherrod, the USDA employer whom Breitbart exposed after she made a speech in which she admitted discriminating against whites -- though she later said she wasn’t doing that anymore, and she realized it was wrong -- was hired by Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack just three days after she won, on behalf of a "collective farm" she was part of, the largest settlement ever in the Pigford case, over $13 million. The second-biggest settlement is about 5 percent of that amount.)

The stench of the Pigford settlement structure was obvious more than a decade ago, but nothing was done. In fact, thanks to Barack Obama, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and other race-hustling politicians, this may have turned into the largest and most obvious vote-buying scheme in our nation’s history. Hugo Chavez was probably taking notes…though I could have teacher and student reversed.

Some blacks, quoted in various articles about the case, are angry that those who are not, were not, and never were going to be farmers are getting paid. But many others, including the white judge in the case whose opinion uses the phrase “Forty acres and a mule” more than once, see Pigford as a way to make restitution for historical wrongs committed by prior generations of Americans against blacks:

From the 2001 FoxNews.com article: “Gary Grant, for example, sees no problem with black non-farmers getting their share. Even if all 40,000 claimants aren’t strictly tillers of the earth, Grant said every single one of them deserves a payment.

"If you are an African-American, you deserve $50,000 because your roots are in farming and your folk have already been cheated," he said. "You are collecting what your grandparents didn’t have the opportunity to."

But Pigford is not -- or at least should not be -- about reparations for slavery or any other claimed justification for pilfering the public treasury on the basis of anything other than discrimination by the federal government in agricultural loans…much less for similar claims by Hispanics, women, and American Indians.

The settlement is nothing more than a massive vote-buying operation built on the backs of a small number of actual cases of discrimination. And it has been nothing more since its inception. As former USDA executive Tom Kalil noted a dozen years ago, “I would suggest hundreds of thousands of votes were influenced in this election as a result of what I consider to be a huge violation of justice and abuse of power and abuse of the system and abuse of the American taxpayer.” Even if Kalil is off by a zero or two, that could be enough to swing close elections.

But then what should we expect under the rule of a president who, when he was an Illinois state senator, said that courts should embark on “redistributive justice” and who in Eric Holder has an Attorney General who presides over a “rancid” (as Breitbart put it) Department of Justice that only prosecutes voter fraud cases where the victim is black?

Steve King deserves a lot of courage for being willing to risk the always politically dangerous charge of “racist!” in order to stand up against the obvious fraud being perpetrated against the American taxpayer by the Clinton and Obama administrations, ethics-free attorneys, and even more unethical members of Congress.

Whether other congressmen, including Southern Republicans, show the same fortitude as King remains to be seen.

But the real question is whether a single African-American member of Congress, especially a black Democrat, will show similar courage.

Will one member of the Congressional Black Caucus say, “Allowing tens of thousands of people to stick their hands into the wallets of taxpayers is not only unfair to millions of Americans but an affront to those black farmers who really were discriminated against by their government.”?

Will one member of the CBC say “If blacks are to be paid reparations for generations-past historical wrongs, it should be done through an act of Congress, not through the perversion of a settlement designed for a different and specific purpose.”?

If even one such member of Congress exists, it will stiffen the spine of others, especially white Southerners in potentially competitive districts. Steve King was skeptical whether such a courageous person exists…but he told me he would try to find one. I wish him luck.

In what might represent some perspective on just how intense the political desire to avoid racial discussions can be, black former Tea Party Congressman Allen West (R-FL) voted for the extension of the Pigford claims in 2011. To be fair to Mr. West, however, he has stated repeatedly that that vote was a mistake (that he did not do enough homework on the amendment as it was part of a raft of votes he had to make in a short time), and indeed that it could have been his single biggest voting mistake while in Congress.

A senior member of the USDA staff commenting for this article noted that this is not just about taxes and fraud, not just about politics and vote-buying: “There are some very good, smart, talented, successful black, Hispanic, Native American, and women farmers who deserve and receive as much support from the USDA as any white male farmer. But these cases lessen their ability to stand out as success in their own right.”

While Barack Obama is yet to take a question on this massive fraud that he is substantially responsible for continuing, even the New York Times knows that Pigford has brought out thousands of slobbering hogs, snorting at the trough of other people’s money.

In the meantime, the USDA official reminds us that there are other victims of the race-hustling Democratic political perfidy: 

My only other thought is that thousands of employees at USDA are unfairly labeled as racists and violators of other citizens' civil rights when they are not that at all. People, including department leaders and lawmakers, need to be more responsible for the way they attribute blame. Some, a very small and shrinking number, should be severely reprimanded for prejudicial behaviors, but not the rest. We are better civil servants than our own government credits us with being. Rather than mending wounds, they keep scratching the scabs off before they're able to heal.

Sadly, with a president who has made a career of blaming others, those good civil servants probably have a long, unpleasant road ahead of them.

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About the Author
Ross Kaminsky is a self-employed trader and investor and is a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute. He is the host of The Ross Kaminsky Show on Denver's NewsRadio 850 KOA on Saturday mornings from 6 AM to 9 AM. You can reach Ross by e-mail at rossputin(at)rossputin(dot)com.