- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Fourteen members of Congress, some of the wealthiest American companies, and even CNN founder Ted Turner and ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson will continue to rake in huge federal crop subsidies under the $248.6 billion farm bill signed last week by President Bush.

Conservative free-market advocates and liberal conservationists were aghast at the pork-barrel spending bill, which the president said he opposed last fall.

"Why should multimillionaire hobby farmers and large, well-heeled corporations get lavish federal handouts while most family farms get nothing but a tax bill?" Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner said in opposing the bill before Mr. Bush embraced it.

"It's because the playing field is tilted: The top 10 percent of farm-subsidy recipients collect two-thirds of the money, and the bottom 80 percent get just one-sixth. In fact, by design, subsidies go to the biggest, most profitable farms."

Among those big-farm owners who will benefit lavishly from renewed federal subsidies are more than a dozen lawmakers who have crafted the law and wealthy corporations whose executives support them politically.

•Rep. Marion Berry, Arkansas Democrat and member of the House Agriculture Committee, receives more than $150,000 a year in farm subsidies for his family enterprises, placing him in the top 1 percent of recipients. He received $750,449 from 1996 to 2000.

•The family of Mr. Berry's fellow Arkansan, Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, receives about $75,000 a year for following federal dictates on whether to grow or not grow a battery of selected crops corn, wheat, rice, cotton and soybeans that account for up to 90 percent of U.S. Department of Agriculture farm subsidies. Mrs. Lincoln's family farming operation received $351,085 from 1996 to 2000.

•Leading corporate farm-aid recipients were billionaire David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank ($352,187); Mr. Turner, top Time-Warner entertainment executive ($176,077); NBA player Scottie Pippen ($131,575); and five Fortune 500 firms Westvaco Corp. ($268,740), Chevron ($260,223), John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. ($211,368), DuPont ($188,732) and Caterpillar ($171,698).

ABC's Mr. Donaldson was paid $29,106 in farm subsidies from 1996 to 2000.

Critics complain that almost three-fourths of all federal crop subsidies go to fewer than 20,000 of the richest farm barons who don't fit the popular image of struggling farmers for whom the aid is intended.

"It turns the rhetoric on its head," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which lobbied vigorously for legislation initially supported by the administration to revamp the farm program with land-conservation incentives.

"There are thousands of subsidy recipients who clearly don't meet the taxpayers' image of the family farm. It's a pretty significant departure from what the program was intended to do," Mr. Cook said.

The only reason most wealthy investors and corporations were able to receive federal subsidies was because they bought land that was once on the Agriculture Department's crop-production rolls, he said.

"Whether they sit down on a tractor or not, they are entitled to subsidies because they have a stake in the land. If they bought land across the street that was once pastureland, they would not be eligible," Mr. Cook said.

Mrs. Lincoln defends the program and her share of the subsidies. "You've got farmers out there who are getting prices that they got decades ago for their commodities," the Arkansas senator said on CNN's "Crossfire" on May 7.

"There's no way that they can survive on that, particularly in a global economy right now."

Mrs. Lincoln said her share of subsidies had been distorted. "I have farmland that was given to me by my grandfather in a trust. I share with eight other cousins. There was a farming operation that farmed not only that farm, but my father and mother's farm and my father's two sisters' farms," she said. "And the total farm received $350,000. I have one-ninth of one-quarter of that farming operation."

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