Human Events Blog

The Pigford Scandal

It’s a timeless tale of passion: a dashing government dressed in taxpayer cash sweeps into a dressing room, eyes burning with an insatiable appetite for votes.  A favored constituency looks up from her dressing table, chest heaving behind her flimsy pretext for cashing in.  In a heavily shadowed corner of the room, a band of high-powered lawyers takes up their violins, and soon romantic music mixes with the firelight.  A veil of moral arrogance is drawn across the scene, but you know what comes next.

Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government web site is rolling out a massive expose of the Pigford settlement, which one of the program’s nominal beneficiaries calls “the biggest rip-off this country has ever known.”  Pigford vs. Glickman was a class-action lawsuit, filed in 1997 by a black farmer (Timothy Pigford) against the Secretary of Agriculture (Dan Glickman.)  The suit alleged widespread racial discrimination in the awarding of financial assistance by the USDA.  It was settled in 1999, under an agreement that would pay black farmers $50,000 apiece in compensation, while the USDA admitted no wrongdoing.  To qualify for this payment, an applicant had to submit to a rigorous investigation that would clearly establish discrimination before taxpayer money was tendered.

No, just kidding.  All you needed to cash in on Pigford was a family member who would testify that you tried to farm something between 1983 and 1997.

Yes, that’s it.  I’m not kidding this time.

The original plaintiffs in the Pigford class-action suit numbered less than 500.  The USDA estimated that no more than 2,000 claims would ultimately be filed.  Who in blazes would be stupid enough to make such an estimate?  Oh, yeah, that’s right: Clinton appointees.  To date, ninety-four thousand claims have been filed.  The lame-duck congress just approved another $1.15 billion to pay them off.  The National Black Farmers Association thinks there are about 18,000 black farmers in the entire country.

The “usual suspects” angrily denounced even the slightest hesitation in forking over the money.  Here’s the fabulously corrupt Maxine Waters, quoted in an American Thinker piece by Rosslyn Smith:

“I was pleased to join my friend John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association, and the many Black farmers and their families and friends…to urge the Senate to fund the $1.15 billion settlement owed to these hard working Americans,” said Waters. “I have been working on this issue for almost 15 years, as Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus in the late ‘90s, I worked closely with my CBC colleagues to urge then-Attorney General Janet Reno to waive the statute of limitations so that farmers could redress decades of financial and racial discrimination with the Department of Justice.”

With support from the Obama Administration and with the funding already passed by the House, Waters said, “we now find ourselves waiting on the Senate, which is using procedure as an excuse to further delay and deny justice to these Black farmers. I firmly believe the Senate should make the Black farmers’ settlement a legislative priority, and that they should not recess for mid-term elections until this issue is resolved. I therefore applaud Senator Kay Hagan and some of her colleagues latest efforts to fast track this payment.”

Of course, you’re going to need some organizational firepower to herd that many fraudulent claims to a big payday.  That’s where Mike Espy comes in.  He’s a high-powered attorney with his own legal firm, specializing in Pigford claims.  He’s racked up over 15,000 clients, and with fifty grand apiece on the line, he’ll rake in millions in fees.  How did Mike Espy become such a powerful attorney?  Well, he used to work for the government.  Specifically, he was the Secretary of Agriculture.  From 1993 to 1994.  Think about that for a second.

Republicans Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, and Steve King of Iowa, have been asking tough questions about the Pigford scandal.  King offered an amendment that would have reduced fraudulent claims before the Democrats seized another billion dollars for the program, but of course they blocked it.  Bachmann supported his effort, saying it would be a “disservice to the American taxpayer” to approve the second round of payments without it.

Bachmann is too polite.  Writing for Big Government, Dan Riehl advises “conservatives and Republicans not to be cowed by the threat of charges of racism” when they investigate Pigford.  That’s good advice.  This is a vote-buying scheme, pure and simple.  It’s a fantastic theft of taxpayer money, from the empty vault of our bankrupt Treasury.  It’s so huge that it seems frankly unbelievable.  Believe it.  A lot of the black farmers who really deserve a settlement were trampled in the rush to transform Pigford into a bodice-ripping romance of outstretched palms, and the passionate politicians eager to smother them with a billion kisses.  You should be at least as stunned and angry as they are.

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