WASHINGTON (June 19, 2007)—An investigation by FarmPolicyFacts.org into the new Environmental Working Group (EWG) farm subsidy database has uncovered a dirty little secret that radical environmental groups likely hoped would never surface.
Former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen, mega-lobbyist Gerald Cassidy, and many other wealthy subsidy recipients in EWG’s database are only there because they receive thousands in conservation payments.
“Farmers constantly get tarred and feathered by the national media by getting lumped in with Scottie Pippen,” USA Rice Producers Group Chairman Paul T. Combs said. “Now we know that these high-profile examples actually have little if anything to do with the farm safety net of the farm bill.”
“Isn’t it ironic that the environmentalists have actually been attacking the very payments that they presumably support?” Combs asked.
Last week, NBC’s “Today” and other major news organizations used Pippen as the poster boy of rich subsidy recipients. What they failed to disclose is that all of the $79,000 in subsidies he received from 2003-2005 were payments under the Conservation Reserve Program, not farm payments.
“Did EWG leave out that little detail when working with NBC on the story, or did the news crew just gloss over it?” Combs wondered.
Cassidy, a well-known DC lobbyist, was reported by the Associated Press as one of the wealthy people getting “federal farm subsidies.” Like Pippen, 100 percent of Cassidy’s subsidies were for conservation.
Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp. who was spotlighted in a Bloomberg article, was also receiving conservation payments. Of the $30,000 in subsidies he received from 2003-2005, more than $27,000 was for conservation.
“Don’t get me wrong, conservation programs are absolutely essential to this country, and I support conservation payments,” Combs said. “I do have a problem with activists highlighting a handful of famous conservation payment recipients in the name of crippling the safety net on which family farms across this country depend.”
To make its story more sensational, NBC noted that 82 people in Beverly Hills got farm subsidies. Again, they failed to differentiate farm payments from the conservation payments.
A search of the EWG database in Beverly Hills’ famous 90210 zip code unveiled that Robert Kopple is the most subsidized man on the Rodeo Drive. He got $125,000 from the government-$120,000 of which was claimed under the Conservation Reserve Program.
And the distinction for the smallest subsidy in 90210 goes to William O’Bryan with a whopping $404 over a three year period. Of course, that $404 windfall was all for conservation.
So will Congress close the Scottie Pippen loophole? Not likely. In fact, many groups support unlimited conservation payments even while some want to drastically cut the farm safety net.