The Justice Department’s Pigford Giveaway

As promised the other week, the following is an excerpt from Jay Sekulow’s wonderful-yet-infuriating book, Undemocratic, explaining the infamous and partisan fraud perpetrated by our own government known as the “Pigford Giveaway”. The audaciousness of some of our “public servants” really is astounding.

“In chapter 3 of this book I outlined how the IRS took the Earned Income Tax Credit — a broadly supported program that benefits the working poor — and transformed it into a $130 billion program that goes far beyond Congress’s intent, a program that directly benefits key Democratic constituencies.

But for sheer audacity, that scandal is amateur hour compared to the Department of Justice’s Pigford fraud.

ronnie-armstrong-black-farmer-indiana-070701jpg-e632bb337a6a37a1Like the Earned Income Tax Credit scandal, the DOJ’s Pigford fraud has legitimate legal roots. In 1997, ninety-one African-American farmers filed suit against officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), alleging they’d been discriminatorily denied farm loans. There is little doubt — and no meaningful dispute — that a number of these plaintiffs did, in fact, face discrimination and those plaintiffs should be compensated.

But the case soon morphed from a rather straightforward race discrimination case into something else entirely: a billion-dollar slush fund available not only to African-American farmers who were victims of discrimination but also to Hispanics, Native Americans, and women — most of whom had never farmed in their lives.

The Department of Justice agreed to settle the Pigford case, creating a settlement fund that made $50,000 payments available to claimants with little requirement for documentation. As word of the payments spread, the Department of Justice, members of Congress, and others worked to expand the pool of available funds, as well as expand the pool of eligible claimants — all of them favored Democratic constituencies.

In a lengthy expose, the New York Times charted the scandal’s growth:

The compensation effort sprang from a desire to redress what the government and a federal judge agreed was a painful legacy of bias against African-Americans by the Agriculture Department. But an examination by the New York Times shows that it became a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees. In the past five years, it has grown to encompass a second group of African-Americans as well as Hispanic, female and Native American farmers. In all, more than 90,000 people have filed claims. The total cost could top $4.4 billion.

The money was made so widely available that claimants didn’t even have to prove they were farmers:

From the start, the claims process prompted allegations of widespread fraud and criticism that its very design encouraged people to lie: because relatively few records remained to verify accusations, claimants were not required to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or had even tried to farm. Agriculture Department reviewers found reams of suspicious claims, from nursery-school-age children and pockets of urban dwellers, sometimes in the same handwriting with nearly identical accounts of discrimination.

To their credit, some career lawyers and career bureaucrats did object to this utterly absurd legal result, but they were overruled by a toxic combination of self-interested politicians, greedy trial lawyers, and sympathetic peers in the bureaucracy.

How prevalent was the fraud? This prevalent:

In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina, the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race in 1997, the year the lawsuit was filed. Those applicants received nearly $100 million.

The extent of the fraud staggers the imagination, becoming so blatant and obvious that the DOJ essentially became co-conspirators in an effort to defraud the taxpayers and drain the Treasury:

In Maple Hill, a struggling town in southeastern North Carolina, the number of people paid was nearly four times the total number of farms. More than one in nine African-American adults there received checks. In Little Rock, Ark., a confidential list of payments shows, 10 members of one extended family collected a total of $500,000, and dozens of other successful claimants shared addresses, phone numbers or close family connections.

And did you know there were ‘farms’ in the city? According to the DOJ there were:

Thirty percent of all payments, totaling $290 million, went to predominantly urban counties — a phenomenon that supporters of the settlement say reflects black farmers’ migration during the 15 years covered by the lawsuit. Only 11 percent, or $107 million, went to what the Agriculture Department classifies as ‘completely rural’ counties.

According to the American Thinker, ‘every apartment in a New York city building received a settlement of at least $50,000.’

Let me emphasize, if an African-American farmer (or Hispanic, or Native American, or female) ever faced unlawful discrimination, and they have, they deserve all the compensation the law allows, but the decision to use the discrimination suffered by a few as a pretext to invite fraud and simply hand out billions in taxpayer dollars is inexcusable.

And yet that’s the Department of Justice.”

There ya have it: another example of government officials twisting a legitimate program, bending over backward to give free stuff to certain groups, knowing that those who benefit will most likely reward them or the administration — or, the party in general — in the elections. But, I’m understating it. Here is how a National Review editorial put it:

“The Pigford case represented everything [the late Andrew] Breitbart raged against in the American political order — large-scale cronyism, corrosive and cynical identity politics, unrepentant hypocrisy, and the predictable indifference of the mainstream media.”  — “Pigford Forever” (4/29/2013)

So much for a government bureaucracy that is responsible, effective, and politically neutral….

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