Republicans concerned about new details on farmer payout, led by Obama appointees

Published April 29, 2013


News details about Obama administration appointees spending more than $1.33 billion to compensate Hispanic and female farmers has raised more concerns among House Republicans about potentially fraudulent payouts related to a 16-year-old discrimination case.

The Justice and Agriculture department appointees spent the money despite a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that dismissed discrimination claims against  federal loan officers and despite thousands of recipients never having claimed bias in court.

The details emerged in a recent New York Times investigative story, in which lawyers, agency officials and ex-officials said many of those who received compensation had “no credible evidence” of discrimination and that the 1999 Pigford case settlements, in which black farmers received $50,000 payouts, became a “magnet for fraud.”

A spokeswoman for the House Agricultural Committee told on Monday that members are following the issue “and it’s possible to have hearings on it at a later date.”

However, the committee’s focus right now is on drafting a final farm bill, she said.

Among those who have followed the cases  – including 60 FBI criminal investigations -- are Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King and the late conservative pundit Andrew Breitbart.

King told on Monday that he’s considering several courses of action, including the use of his powers as chairman of a House subcommittee to look at Agriculture Department activities, including future payouts.

The initial payouts were supposed to redress decades of Agriculture Department bias against black farmers.

But the potential for a check worth tens of thousands of dollars with little documentation – in large part because of poor Agriculture Department document keeping – appeared to result in widespread fraud.

“It just went wild,” an Arkansas resident who received a claim told The Times. “Some people who took the money didn’t have a garden in the ground.”

More than 90,000 people have filed claims so far, and the total cost could reach $4.4 billion, according to the report.

As a senator, Obama supported expanding compensation for black farmers and pressed for $1.15 billion to pay new claims. And within a year of Obama becoming president, Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez was pushing for equal compensation for Hispanic farmers, the Times reports.

The history of the Pigford case stretches back to President Clinton, who purportedly was pressed by a leader of the National Black Farmers Association into helping settle the case.

Clinton is said to have asked Carol Willis, a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee “known for his expertise in black voter turnout,” to get involved. And the farmers association later backed Obama’s primary campaign, the Times reported.

King said he would also work with the chairmen of the Republican-controlled House Judiciary and Agriculture committees “because their cooperation is essential to the success of any kind of congressional inquiry.”

The Judiciary Committee would look into the use of the Treasury Department’s Judgment Fund, which is essentially reserved for “imminent litigation.”