The New York Times reported Friday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has likely enabled massive fraud in the Pigford series of legal settlements, in which black, Hispanic, female and Native American farmers have claimed to be victims of past discrimination.
The cost of the settlements, which could exceed $4.4 billion, is the result of a process that “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,” the Times notes.
Among those influential members of Congress was then-Senator Barack Obama, who made Pigford payouts a priority in exchange for political support for his 2008 presidential campaign among a coveted group of black voters in the rural South, the Times reports.
As president, Obama continued to support payouts for new groups of claimants while abandoning a review process that had been used to fight fraud. The aim was “buying the support” of minorities, according to the Times, while middlemen created a “cottage industry” in defrauding the government.
The Times investigation, led by reporter Sharon LaFraniere, vindicates the late Andrew Breitbart, for whom Pigford became a crucial issue in demonstrating the cynical use of racial politics by the institutional left to hurt the very people they claimed to be helping. Breitbart directed investigations of the Pigford fraud and championed the cause of the original black farmers in the lawsuit, arguing that many of them had been left behind while opportunistic lawyers and fraudulent claimants looted the federal treasury in exchange for votes and support.
The left, led by the George Soros-funded Media Matters for America, attempted for years to dismiss claims of fraud in Pigford, calling it Breitbart’s “stupidest conspiracy theory.” When Fox News picked up the story, Media Matters called it an attempt to attack “anti-discrimination efforts.”
In fact, the 5,529-word report by LaFraniere shows that Pigford and subsequent settlements had little to do with redressing discrimination and everything to do with politics and greed, while the true victims of discrimination continued to suffer in obscurity.
In 2010, Breitbart was accused by the left of using a dispute with the NAACP to disrupt Pigford funding. That motivated him to investigate.
“I had never heard of Pigford, so for the last four and half months, all I’ve been doing is eating, breathing, sleeping Pigford, researching Pigford, finding whistleblowers who are hiding in plain sight who have been wanting to tell the story of how this was rigged,” he told the Daily Caller in December 2010.
The Times story credits Breitbart News and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) for drawing attention to the issue.
LaFraniere and colleagues conducted their own, independent investigation, “based on thousands of pages of court and confidential government documents, as well as interviews with dozens of claimants, lawyers, former and current government officials and others involved in the cases over the past 14 years.”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the Times that the settlements opened “‘a new chapter of civil rights at U.S.D.A,” claiming that critics of Pigford and other payouts were motivated by a “Pandora’s box” of hidden racial agendas.
Yet the Times documents how Pigford became a “magnet for fraud” across the South. “In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina,” LaFraniere writes, “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 government let many of the fraudulent claims slip by unpunished because “the bar for a successful claim was so low that it was almost impossible to show criminality.”
Much of the fraud was enabled by the Clinton and Obama administrations, and by members of Congress seeking to reward special interests. Then-Sen. Obama sponsored new Pigford legislation in 2007, while Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) threatened in 2009 to lead protests against the administration if it did not bend to the wishes of Hispanic claimants.
Meanwhile, whole families, including young children, filed claims for past discrimination to reap $50,000 each in cash payouts. As yet, Congress has failed to investigate Pigford.
That may finally change.