NYT: “Federal Spigot Flows as Farmers Claim Discrimination”

by Walter Olson on April 26, 2013

This seemed like a big story to me at the time, and it’s gratifying that it also seems like a big story to the editors of the New York Times. Sharon LaFreniere’s above-the-fold story today breaks vital new details about how career government lawyers opposed Obama appointees’ insistence on reaching a gigantic settlement for claims of bias against female and Hispanic farmers in the operation of federal agriculture programs.

On the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling [adverse to claimants and favorable toward USDA], interviews and records show, the Obama administration’s political appointees at the Justice and Agriculture Departments engineered a stunning turnabout: they committed $1.33 billion to compensate not just the 91 plaintiffs but thousands of Hispanic and female farmers who had never claimed bias in court.

The deal, several current and former government officials said, was fashioned in White House meetings despite the vehement objections — until now undisclosed — of career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination. What is more, some protested, the template for the deal — the $50,000 payouts to black farmers — had proved a magnet for fraud.

According to the Times report, the settlement drive 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.” On the earlier, “magnet for fraud” Pigford settlement, see our coverage here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.

P.S. Plenty of coverage of this story at other blogs, including tributes to Lee Stranahan and the late Andrew Breitbart, whose investigations helped crack the story open. Useful background from Daniel Foster:

As in the original Pigford settlements, the government has literally given plaintiffs and their lawyers more money than they know what to do with. In the case of a $760 million settlement with Native Americans, which career DOJ lawyers argued was more than the government would have to pay even if they lost in court, only $300 million worth of (ridiculously easy to fake) claims were actually filed, leaving the rest of the money to be distributed to “nonprofit organizations serving Native American farmers.” As the story points out, it is not even clear how many such organizations exist — though you can bet any enterprising NGOers reading this are at this very moment pulling a clean copy of the 501(c)(3) application from their files.