|Feds’ Pigford Settlements Leave Taxpayers Picking Up the Tab|
By Ashton Ellis
Thursday, September 23 2010
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is not the problem in Washington, D.C. If anything, the man frequently described as one of the most conservative members of Congress is standing up for the everyday Americans who are fed up with how liberal elites are fleecing taxpayers.
Like other Republicans, King wants to stop the out-of-control spending and eliminate the programs that keep the money flowing. In anticipation of a GOP congressional majority after this year’s midterm elections, he recently called for all Republicans to take a “blood oath” to defund ObamaCare in every appropriations bill next year. When the presidential veto ultimately comes, King wants his fellow fiscal conservatives to stand strong.
“At some point,” King says, “President (Barack) Obama will have to decide whether his signature legislation is worth shutting down the government. Make no mistake. It will be President Obama’s decision to shut down the government if he refuses to sign appropriations bills into law. In 1995, President (Bill) Clinton shut down the government and the House gave in. This time, I want at least 218 Republicans who aren’t wobbly.”
He’ll need that kind of fortitude in order to launch his other big initiative should Republicans regain control of the House.
In some ways, the truth behind the Pigford settlements is the scandal that dare not speak its name in Republican circles. Southern conservatives in particular are scared to death of it. Pigford is named after the lead representative in a class action lawsuit that alleges the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) discriminated against black farmers when distributing subsidies from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. Filed during the Clinton Administration, the Pigford lawsuit quickly went to mediation where sympathetic USDA administrators agreed to settle the case at taxpayer expense.
At this point, Pigford’s history takes a bizarre turn. A consent decree is the legal instrument for enforcing a settlement agreement against a government agency. Once the plaintiff and the agency heads agree on the terms of a settlement, they give their consent to a judge’s decree enforcing the agreement. The Pigford consent decree provided money damages for members of the class in exchange for waiving the members’ right to a trial.
That’s when the problems began. As one of only two Republicans serving on both the House Judiciary and Agricultural committees, King had a front row seat as the payout process unfolded. One witness in favor of the Pigford settlement testified about the USDA’s discrimination, saying that farmers needed to be compensated. With a series of questions asking how many farmers specifically were affected, King finally forced an estimate: 50. Other witnesses put the number closer to 3,000. Time would show that even the latter number failed to consider just how attractive a racially-conscious settlement arrangement would prove to be.
Within just a few years, 14,000 Pigford-related claims were paid. Soon there were charges that notice of the Pigford settlement terms were not adequately communicated to black farmers, particularly the filing deadline. These late filers succeeded in getting legislation passed to reopen the filing deadline and settlement fund, now flush with an additional $100 million.
Yet even that wasn’t enough. After entering office, President Obama announced, through Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, an even bigger windfall. Even though no lawsuit was pending and the payout process in the original consent decree was still in effect, the Obama Administration pledged another $1.15 billion to be made available to all successful Pigford II (i.e. late filing) claimants. Today, over 90,000 Pigford-related claims have been paid with more in the pipeline.
But there is more to this story than the escalating number of potential Pigford claimants. At each step in the process an ulterior motive for expanding the settlement came into focus. King recalls, “The opening line of (Judge Paul L. Friedman’s) consent decree starts with ‘Forty acres and a mule…’” There are reports that lawyers encouraged some African Americans to file dubious Pigford claims as a way to get a form of slavery reparations from the federal government.
The likelihood of a backdoor case of taxpayer fraud increases sharply with the realization that the federal government counts only 40,000 black farmers in the entire country, meaning that the 90,000+ in potential payouts is double the number of eligible claimants.
At the moment, no one other than Representative King is willing to get to the bottom of what has become the largest class action civil rights settlement in American history. If there is any hope of getting federal spending under control, the truth behind the Pigford payouts must be known. Hopefully, King’s Republican colleagues won’t let ill-founded charges of racism scare them away from protecting taxpayers.
Related Articles :