Lincoln farm payments 'no problem'
By Paul Barton
The head of a major Washington watchdog group said she sees no ethical dilemma with Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln and her family having received farm subsidies while Lincoln has voted on and shaped farm aid as a senator.
“I don’t see a problem,” said Melanie Sloan, who runs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Why? “Because she’s not the only one receiving subsidies,” the ethics maven added.
Questions about Lincoln - long a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and now its chair - and subsidies received by farms owned by the Lambert family of Phillips County (her maiden name) have been raised intermittently during her nearly 12 years in the upper chamber.
The liberal website firedoglake.com, already unhappy with Lincoln because of her stands on health care and other issues, brought the issue up anew earlier this month.
An article on the website said “there’s something very sleazy about fighting for bigger ag subsidies while collecting them.”
Updated figures provided this week to the Arkansas Times by the Environmental Working Group shows persons and corporations related to Lambert family farms in Phillips County received $770,000 from 1995-2009 under federal subsidy programs.
The group, which has done groundbreaking work the past decade in tracking the recipients of subsidies, has Lincoln herself as only receiving $2,652. The money went to “Blanche Lambert” of Arlington, Va., where Lincoln has her Washington home. It was dispensed between 2003 and 2005.
Farming operations owned by her brother, Jordan Lambert III, have received the lion’s share - $510,167, its figures show. The group shows subsidies continuing to flow to Martha Lambert of Phillips County, Lincoln’s mother, through 2009. Those total $170,269.
Also a part of the farm-ownership arrangements operated by her brother is sister-in-law Lisa Lambert, the Environmental Working group said.
Lincoln, who divested herself of her farm holdings in recent years, was listed as 12 percent owner of one farming corporation and a 13 percent owner of another.
Sloan, the head of Crew, said ethical questions were once raised about former Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, who worked on subsidy legislation while owning a hog farm that received federal money. The Senate Ethics Committee ruled Faircloth committed no violation because he wasn’t the only one receiving such subsidies, she added, saying that’s way she sees Lincoln’s case.
Sloan, citing the firedoglake.com article, said she disagreed with its conclusion.
But she also said it might have been best if Lincoln had recused herself from some of the subsidy votes, including proposals to put stricter limits on farm payments, which she opposed in both 2002 and 2007. She also delivered passionate floor speeches on the matter.
On Friday, when asked about the matter through her campaign staff, Lincoln issued the following statement:
“I vote on legislation that affects my life in a variety of ways, from tax measures that I abide by as a taxpayer to Medicare changes that affect my mother, uncles and aunts. Farm payments are no different and do not present a conflict of interest. Throughout my career I have actively promoted my proud heritage as the daughter of a seventh generation farm family which links me to the life experiences of many Arkansans. My advocacy for southern farm policy is derived not from my personal interest or my family’s interest but from the state I represent where more than 25 percent of the economy depends on agriculture production. I stopped receiving personal benefit from the Lambert family farm enterprise in 2005 when I sold my one-ninth share. This transaction has always been available for public inspection on my annual personal financial disclosure statement for that year.”