Oklahoma Legislators Receive Millions in Farm Subsidies

About two dozen Oklahoma legislators, a mix of Democrats and Republicans, have received millions of dollars in federal money, primarily in form of farm subsidies. The Tulsa World, an Oklahoma newspaper, working with the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental activist organization based in Washington D.C., scoured U.S. Department of Agriculture records, uncovering close to $4 million in federal farm subsidy payments going to Oklahoma lawmakers.

Many environmental groups, as well as many small farmers, say that the subsidy system has become less about aiding farmers in need and more about guaranteed revenue from the federal government. Many groups claim that too much money goes to large-scale agribusinesses without helping small farmers. Others claim that rampant fraud indicates that many see the subsidy system as more about making a buck then legitimate aid to struggling farmers.

The evidence uncovered in Oklahoma seems to validate this viewpoint. Of the 22 lawmakers who receive large-scale farm subsidies, three failed to report this income to the State Ethics Commission, a violation of Oklahoma law. Many lawmakers who received this money are also not primarily farmers. Some of the largest recipients of farm subsidies list their primary occupation as doctors, lawyers, and other non-agricultural careers.

In addition, some of the recipients of federal money are also some of the loudest critics of federal spending (including some politicians who advocate cutting federal agricultural spending).  State Rep. Leslie Osborn, for example, has received over $1 million in farm subsidies since 1995 while simultaneously criticizing government spending and denouncing similar federal aid projects as pork spending. State Senator Tom Ivester, who himself received over $5,000 in subsidies in 2010, went as far as to call Osborn’s views hypocritical.

The political fallout from this latest revelation is sure to shape the debate over the federal budget. Politicians from both parties are eager to cut federal spending, often with agricultural supports on the chopping block, and news of farm subsidies abuses are more than likely to lower support for farm safety nets.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer