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Taxpayer Calculator: Indian reality show, California wine tours backed by USDA funds

 

Companies spend millions of dollars per year to promote and conduct market research on their goods and services. But did you know that the federal government spends some of your tax dollars to help those organizations do it too?

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP) has spent about $2.1 billion since 1999 on advertising and promotional campaigns for U.S. products overseas.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has released a new report highlighting the program to foster debate over the role of government in promoting private market goods.

“Many Americans might respond with disbelief that we are paying for private companies to market their products in the first place,” Coburn said in a statement accompanying the report. “That we are doing so overseas is even more troubling.”

The recipients of MAP funds run the gamut of agricultural interests. 

One program highlighted by Coburn gave Blue Diamond Growers, a nut producer, more than $28 million since 1999 to help market its products overseas. The company sold $709 million worth of nuts in 2009 alone. 

Another MAP recipient, the Cotton Council International, received $20 million in 2011 to produce and promote Let’s Design, an Indian reality television show where contestants make clothing out of cotton. The council has reaped more than $169 million in the last decade. 

California’s Wine Institute gulped down $60 million over the past decade in order to conduct wine tours, marketing and other events touting the $18 billion per year industry.

MAP supporters say that the government investment pays large dividends for the private sector. The USDA also points out that the program is authorized by Congress. 

"We are doing an excellent job of ensuring that there is a return," USDA spokesman Matt Herrick told Fox News. He cited a report showing "for every one dollar that federal government invests, there is a 35-dollar return in private economic activity."  

The agency adds that agriculture supports one in 12 jobs in the United States and contributes to a positive trade balance.

So how much will this cost you? Check out the taxpayer calculator here. Do you think this is a wise use of your tax dollars?