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Sunday, October 31, 2010

RCJ Ignores Noem Conflict of Interest on Crop Insurance

The Rapid City Journal is one of the few major newspapers endorsing Republican Kristi Noem over Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. (Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, and Mitchell papers are backing the incumbent.)

RCJ bases its endorsement on bogus arguments:
  1. They grumble that SHS hasn't been visible enough in West River, yet they say nothing about Noem's skipping the KOTA debate, the Rapid City Tea Party rallies, and even a visit from her own national party chair to stay home in East River and shoot birds.
  2. They brand the stimulus a Democratic boondoggle, ignoring the good the stimulus is doing in their own backyard.
  3. The biggest whopper: the RCJ editorial board chafes at Max Sandlin's lobbying but ignore the Noem family's own blatant conflict of interest:
    Some of Herseth Sandlin's decisions have been difficult for the congresswoman, when her personal and/or party's convictions cross with those of her constituents. Noem would have no such conflict [editorial, "Noem in Tune with West River," Rapid City Journal, 2010.10.31].
No such conflict? Bull-roar. In addition to surviving on farm welfare payments, Kristi and Bryon Noem sell crop insurance. Crop insurance has been recognized by Republicans and Democrats as a "textbook example of waste, fraud, and abuse in federal spending." Crop insurance companies have regularly made three to nearly five times the benchmark rate of return on their policies. A 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office found that from 1997 to 2006, 42 cents out of every federal dollar spent on the crop insurance program went to the crop insurance companies, not to farmers.*

In response to this waste and inefficiency, the 2008 Farm Bill includes a new Standard Reinsurance Agreement that cuts six billion dollars from the crop insurance program and applies some of those savings to reducing the deficit. Those savings come in part by capping commissions for crop insurance agents like the Noems.

Those caps don't kick in until next year. Put Kristi Noem in office, and she'll have a chance to repeal those caps before they cut into her family's crop insurance profits. Wouldn't that be a nice little anniversary present for Bryon?

No conflict of interest there, is there, Rapid City Journal? Noem is clearly in tune with West River and South Dakota values of taking every penny we can from Uncle Sam.

Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has explicitly addressed concerns about her potential conflict of interest... in the pages of the Rapid City Journal itself. Kristi Noem has said nothing about her own direct business interest in the federal crop insurance program that she'd like the chance to vote on. In manufacturing its endorsement of Noem, the Rapid City Journal is holding the GOP challenger to a much lower standard than it applies to our incumbent Congresswoman.
Bonus endorsement ding: RCJ concludes its Noem endorsement by saying "This country needs elected officials with positive, proactive solutions." That's funny: Kristi Noem hasn't offered any positive, proactive solutions. She hasn't even offered a clear agriculture policy.
*That same 2007 GAO report suggest another possible connection between Noem, crop insurance, and the Farm Service Agency. The GAO found that the Farm Service Agency was not conducting enough inspections to prevent bogus crop loss claims. Crop insurer Kristi Noem served on the state committee of the Farm Service Agency in the 1990s. What government connections might Noem have made then that are now helping her crop insurance business?

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