Fighting the Pork Tax
|December 26, 2001||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Is Democracy Strong Enough to Stop Corruption?
Family Farmers Fight Against
Unjust Pork Tax
by Joanne Kennedy
Part Two of an Exploration of Taxes and Corruption
The Campaign for Family Farms is a coalition of citizen activists from Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Illinois. In 1997 these grassroots groups began mobilizing hog farmers nationwide to sign a petition calling for a vote on the pork tax. They collected 19,941 signatures, more than the 15% required, and went to Washington. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) wanted to verify that all the signatories were, in fact, hog farmers. But, the USDA didn’t have a process for verification. At length they hired a telemarketing firm to phone the farmers on Sunday afternoons, requesting financial statements to prove they they were indeed hog farmers. Months passed and, in the end, the USDA said they were unable to verify the signatures, so the vote got stalled. Voting is a democratic activity, but heel-dragging by the USDA was not.
The family farmers persevered. They appealed to then Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. Even he recognized that the problem of verification was the fault of the USDA, not the farmers, and decided that the vote should proceed, The vote was held in August and September, 2000. Anyone who had owned and sold oneor more hogs in the past year — in other words, every payer of the pork tax — was allowed to vote. The farmers were required to go to their local Farm Service Association (FSA) to vote or request an absentee ballot. Most farmers are well known to their local FSAs, making it hard to impersonate a hog farmer, but, for extra protection, there was a $10,000 fine for fraud.
Did the NPPC trust its own members to vote wisely? Apparently not — the NPPC cried foul, questioning Secretary Glickman’s authority to call for the vote in the first place. They lobbied Congress to have the US General Accounting Office (GAO) do an investigation, but, when the GAO did investigate, they found no flaw in Secretary Glickman’s actions. Even the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the USDA investigated the NPPC’s concerns about voting fraud and found them unfounded.
Finally, on January 11, 2001, after waiting for those reports from the GAO and the OIG, Secretary Glickman announced a victory for the family farmers. The vote was 53% in favor of dumping the pork tax, 47% opposed. (This was a considerably larger margin of victory than either George W. Bush or Al Gore had been claiming in the presidential election two months before.) The very next day, the NPPC filed a lawsuit against the USDA, demanding the preservation of the pork tax.
Meanwhile, President Bush assembled his transition team for the Department of Agriculture, which included Al Tank, the CEO of the NPPC. Strangely, the Campaign for Family Farms couldn’t get a meeting with the new Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman. The farmers wanted to discuss how the vote had come about and to offer assistance with the termination of the tax. Unfortunately, what the farmers finally got was a phone:call informing them that the USDA had “settled” the lawsuit with the NPPC by agreeing to throw out the vote and keep the tax.
Apparently, Secretary Veneman further assured the NPPC that she would not allow another vote during this administration. The USDA and the Department of Justice claimed that the NPPC had persuasive arguments regarding Secretary Glickman’s lack of authority to call the vote, and it was wise to settle the case — but they later admitted that they had been unaware of the findings of the GAO and OIG on these matters. So much for actually studying a case before settling it.
Now, the Campaign for Family Farms must sue the USDA in order to get enforcement of the vote they they won after spending four years just fighting to vote at all.
The Future is Uncertain
Unless something changes, family hog farmers will soon be a thing of the past. Yet they are being forced to fund the very “commodity organization” that is stabbing them in the back. The farmers don’t blame the tax itself for their struggle. They are just tired of paying it, recognizing that the NPPC is not on their side. But the most important question here is the democratic system. When the farmers went seeking a democratic vote, utilizing a system they trusted, they were literally sold out. I am not too surprised that the state failed them, but I am saddened by this betrayal of hard-working people who played by the rules, expecting that others would too. Still, somehow, they have not lost faith. These family farmers continue to utilize the democratic process by protesting, writing letters, holding press conferences and, perhaps most boldly, by farming.
For more information, contact the Campaign for Family Farms, 2001 Forest Ave., Des Moines, IA 50311.
TOMORROW — A Special Guest Offers Sound Economic Alternatives to Unfair Pork Taxes
This article originally appeared in the Catholic Worker newspaper and is reprinted here with the permission of that venerable and upstanding periodical.
To email this article to a friend, click here
Is your blood boiling yet? If not, visit the Corporate Welfare Shame Site for even more stories of corruption and special privileges
For more on corporate welfare, try the Corporate Welfare Search Engine
For more information on any topic, try the Ask Henry search engine
Tell your opinion and interact with others in the Discussion Room
What would be a good, just solution to this mess? Tell your views to The Progress Report!