Farming for Federal Dollars

Meet the Minnesotans who receive subsidies for not growing anything

"Sure, there's people who take advantage of the programs that shouldn't," he says. "But for the majority of the instances that's not the case, and that's not the case here."

Of course David hasn't done too bad for himself either, having collected $89,840 in CRP and direct payments last year alone.

"Collin Peterson, our congressman, has done a fantastic job in steering the Ag budget and programs," David added. "I'm real happy with the work he's done."

Rep. Collin Peterson

U.S. Representative

Subsidies received in 2009: $129

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) is one of two Minnesota members of U.S. Congress who accepts farm subsidies.

The former accountant accepts $129 a year in direct payments.

Not the most brazen example of a politician wantonly sucking off the public teat, but the real money is in campaign contributions. The top four industries that chipped in for his 2010 re-election campaign are all farm- related: the agricultural services, crop, dairy, and food-processing industries have already dumped a combined $209,550 into his campaign coffers with eight months remaining until midterm elections.

Now about that other Minnesotan in Congress receiving farm subsidies ...

Rep. Michele Bachmann

U.S. Representative

Subsidies received in 2009: Between $2,501 and $5,000

Michele Bachmann has carved out a niche by denouncing big government in all its forms. On Thanksgiving, she even published a blog post entitled, "What We Learned from the Pilgrims" that lauded their free enterprise as a reason to avoid contributing to food kitchens.

"We've had our own modern day fling with great society welfare state policies," she concluded. "And after trillions and trillions spent we've purchased neither more personal industry or frugality. Rather, if people can obtain for free what other men endeavor to labor for, the former learns to keep the latter busy."

Just weeks later, it emerged that this champion of "personal industry" was, as she might put it, "obtaining for free what other men endeavor to labor for."

Bachmann's late father-in-law, Paul Bachmann, owns a 949-acre farm in western Wisconsin. The Bachmann Farm Family Limited Partnership took in $251,973 in federal handouts between 1995 and 2006, mostly in the form of dairy and crop subsidies.

Though not registered under her name, Michele—whose yearly salary as a member of Congress is $169,300—profits modestly from the operation. Her personal stake is between $100,001 and $250,000, according to her 2007 personal financial disclosure statement, which would net her between $2,501 and $5,000 in federal subsidies for not farming.

"You can't have it both ways," says Donald McFarland, a Minnesota-based Democratic strategist. "You can't travel around the country railing against government handouts while your family farm is accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money. The hypocrisy is just astounding. How she justifies it to herself, I have no idea."

Cargill, Inc.

Multinational corporation

Subsidies received in 2009: Immeasurable

One of the biggest Minnesota beneficiaries of federal handouts wasn't listed on the FOIA-requested database provided by the USDA. But when it comes to publicly subsidized windfalls, Cargill, Inc. is the $120-billion gorilla in the living room.

"You won't find them on the database, but they buy the raw product produced by corn and soy farmers, who are themselves highly subsidized," says Carr. "This enables them to buy corn and other commodities at artificially low prices."

The influx of taxpayer money drives down costs on the front end, which inflates the profit margin on the back end. In other words, Cargill's overhead is, in effect, partially subsidized by the public, while the resulting profits remain 100 percent privatized. (Cargill did not return several phone calls requesting comment.)

The company's profits are consequently stratospheric. During the last full fiscal year, the agribusiness behemoth reaped $3.64 billion. The largest privately held corporation in America, Cargill would be among the top 10 companies in the Fortune 500 were it publicly traded.

With so much cash, no wonder Cargill pays almost $1.5 million each year to federal lobbyists. Now that's money well spent.

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