Farm Subsidies Help Those Who Help Themselves

Basketball star Scottie Pippen, pornographer Larry Flynt, stockbroker Charles Schwab. What do they have in common?

In the eyes of the Feds, they're all farmers.

"It doesn't matter who you are, how rich you are, what business you're involved in, if you grow the specified crops, you do receive subsidies," said Bill Walker, vice president for the West Coast for the Environmental Working Group.

Farm subsidies date back to the Great Depression as a means to help family farmers survive bad weather and poor markets.

Today, it's a $200 billion program.

"This is nothing more than a direct government subsidy to an industry that's every bit as big and every bit as profitable say as the automobile industry," Walker said.

But supporters of farm subsidies say subsidies lower food prices and help American farmers compete.

"Those 10 percent of producers also produce about 75 percent of the nation's food and fibers. So it's logical that that money would be going to those folks," said Mark Bagby, director of communications for Calcot, a grower-owned cotton marketing cooperative.

However, among those folks are Chevron and DuPont, the city of New York, the state of Washington, and a long list of absentee owners — doctors, lawyers and businessmen who own farms as an investment

In Beverly Hills, home to Rodeo Drive, but not the bull-riding rodeo, 34 so-called farmers collect agricultural subsidies. That number is 40 in Apsen ski resort, 81 in Palm Beach, and 800 in Washington, D.C.

"It's pretty ridiculous. I guess that kind of goes in line with what I was saying somebody that rich why would he even bother with subsidies, you know?" asked Xavier Avila, president of the California Dairy Campaign.

Critics say the real reason farm subsidies survive isn't about farming at all, but politics.

Agri-business pumped $60 million into the last election, making the farm lobby and the votes they represent a constituency no politician can ignore.