Celebs and Other Millionaire Farmers Pocket Your Tax Dollars

Subsidies meant for small, family farms fatten the wallets of the rich and famous.
Thanks to a messy farm pay-out system, the rich get richer. (borman818/Creative Commons)
Nov 15, 2011
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

From 2003 to 2009, millionaires received more than $316 million in farm program payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Yes, you read that right.

In a new report aptly titled "Subsidies of the Rich and Famous," U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) digs up dirt on some shady pay-outs from the federal government to multimillionaires. Among the beneficiaries: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Quincy Jones, and Ted Turner.

Adding insult to injury, of the 2,702 recipients whose incomes exceeded $2.5 million between 2003 and 2006, 78 percent listed a metropolitan area as their primary address, not farmland. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified several individuals whose professions were unrelated to farming or agriculture entirely.

In the years leading up to the 2008 Farm Bill, payouts to ineligible farmers was largely based on mismanagement. The USDA relied on recipients to self-certify that their incomes did not exceed income eligibility caps, and oversight was spotty. In July 2007, the GAO discovered that USDA paid $1.1 billion over six years to 172, 801 deceased farmers. By 2008, a new Farm Bill was drafted to reign in unchecked pay-outs, but millionaires continue to receive funds.

Coburn, whose report also addresses Social Security, unemployment benefits, conservation program and disaster housing benefits for the rich, is fed up.

"From tax write-offs for gambling losses, vacation homes, and luxury yachts to subsidies for their ranches and estates, the government is subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous," he writes in the opening paragraphs of the report.

In October 2011, the Senate voted to end farm payments to millionaires in 2012, but for only one year, Coburn says. The House of Representatives has not yet considered the bill.

See the full report here.

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