By Mark Wachtler
December 27, 2013. Chicago. (ONN) Lincoln Park is known as Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhood, with some healthy competition from the Gold Coast. But who knew the exclusive couple of blocks on the city’s north side was home to 224 poverty-stricken family farms. That’s who the nation’s annual Farm Bill is meant to help. So why is so much welfare money going to Chicago’s rich?
This Farm Bill program shows wealthy homeowners how to properly drain rain water around their sprawling mansions. Image courtesy of SouthHolland.org.
The taxpayer watchdog group For the Good of Illinois has spent the last few years creating searchable databases featuring every penny of government spending. Available for interested readers to peruse online, the program is called OpenTheBooks.com. Now the Illinois group located in the Chicago suburbs has set their sites on looking at Farm Bill subsidy payments. What they found was surprising.
Farm policy or Money Laundering Scheme
That was the comparison the taxpayer advocates at Open the Books made after seeing the tens of thousands of Farm Bill subsidy payments going to wealthy individuals and corporations, including celebrities, Congressmen and rock stars. “Is this farm policy?” the group asked in a recent report, “or a legalized money laundering scheme?”
The organization quotes US Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) in his report on government waste and abuse titled Subsidies of the Rich and Famous saying, ‘This is not an accidental loophole…this reverse Robin Hood-style of wealth redistribution is an intentional effort to get all Americans bought into a system where everyone appears to benefit.’ In other words, people believe the Farm Bill is helping struggling family farms. But instead, it’s helping powerful corporations, their wealthy owners, and even the government employees who administer the payments.
Illustrating their outrage, the organization lists a few examples of powerful individuals in big cities with no farms receiving farm subsidy payments compliments of the US taxpayer. A number of recipients are executives at the Agriculture Department – the agency that administers the welfare program – including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack himself. And just as surprising, 14 Congressmen from the House and Senate are personally receiving farm subsidies compliments of the Farm Bill they drafted and passed.
In the Washington DC area, 2,801 recipients of farm money received $18.4 million from 2008 to 2011. They included the above 14 Congressmen, plus high-powered Washington lobbyists and law firms. New York City, another city without a single farm, was home to 247 farm subsidy recipients. As quoted by the report, they included, ‘Wall Street financiers, the Rockefellers, wealthy heirs and Upper East side residents.’
Other well-known upper class zip codes from the wealthiest neighborhoods in America are also represented in the database of federal welfare recipients claiming farm subsidy payments. Areas shown to have a large number of farm payments include Beverly Hills, Miami Beach, Palm Beach, Sea Island, and the exclusive ski resort town of Park City, UT. As detailed in a recent Whiteout Press investigative report, Farm Bill welfare recipients also include such celebrities as John Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Ted Turner, Scottie Pippen, and Jimmy Carter.
Chicago’s mysterious 930 family farms
This author’s first thought when faced with the idea of thousands of farms inside the Chicago city limits was that it was a mistake. Then, the vision arose of thousands of small, coop-style community vegetable gardens replacing abandoned buildings and blood-stained gang turf. Regardless of what the thousands of farm subsidy payments are for, they’re going to some of the wealthiest people in the city. That was the determination after Open the Books searched the spending database by zip code covering the high class near north neighborhood of Lincoln Park.
All together, the Farm Bill is paying 930 farmers within the city limits of Chicago. The payments total $6.1 million and a number of them are sent to multi-million-dollar Lincoln Park homes. In all, there are 224 Farm Bill recipients living in that one small neighborhood alone. Many are listed on densely populated streets like Fullerton Avenue and Lincoln Park West. Perhaps while the neighborhood is mysteriously enjoying more police protection than any other in the city, the cops can find these 224 missing farms.
Rivaling Lincoln Park is the upper class neighborhood along the lake – the Gold Coast. Home to residential skyscrapers overlooking Lake Michigan and the beautiful Chicago skyline, this tiny but extremely wealthy neighborhood also has more than its fair share of farm subsidy recipients. According to the report, 141 poverty-stricken farmers are receiving their welfare checks at multi-million-dollar addresses on streets such as Clark Street, State Street, and Lake Shore Drive.
More Chicago examples
The rest of Chicago’s Farm Bill subsidy recipients are raising eyebrows as well. They include a charity run by Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam and the luxury high rise offices of an entity claiming to represent 7 of the top 21 farm subsidy recipients in the city and collecting millions in their names. The effort is called ‘The Wetlands Initiative’ and each of the seven charities does work to preserve the habitats of a different species of duck.
Here’s another surprise finding. Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam is the 12th biggest recipient in Chicago of Farm Bill money, including 19 separate payments from 2008 to 2011. The payments totaled $103,529 and the organization is listed at the home of Minister Farrakhan. The Illinois Secretary of State shows the charity as ‘Not Good Standing’.
Even more surprising, during the final year of the Bush administration in 2008, the President’s Agriculture Department approved a loan to Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam’s charity in the name of preserving their Chicago farm. The USDA issued the group a $26,367 ‘commodity loan’ to, ‘improve and stabilize farm income, assist with a better balance between supply and demand of the commodities.’
Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam aren’t alone in taking advantage of the commodities market to receive farm money. David Frymire is a well known owner-investor at the Chicago Board of Trade. He’s owned multiple seats on the CBOE and recently sold one of his interests to Archer Daniels Midland. That sale alone was of a company he owned that brought in $670 million in revenues the last year before the sale to ADM. David Frymire is also receiving tens of thousands in farm subsidies.
Critics of the Farm Bill often point to the fact that three-quarters of its budget actually funds Food Stamp and nutrition programs for the poor, not farms. Now, it appears the remaining one-quarter of the multi-billion-dollar legislation meant to help struggling family farms isn’t going to the needy farmers either. Instead, it’s being hand-delivered to some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in America’s biggest cities. And then we wonder why America’s small farmers have all but disappeared over the last three decades.
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