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Senate candidate Joe Miller admits taking farm subsidies

Craig Medred,Jill Burke,Joshua Saul

0920-farmerjoeAlaska Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller, an outspoken critic of federal funding, has in the past obtained federal farm subsidies in the amount of more than $7,000 for Kansas farmland, an Alaska Dispatch investigation has revealed.

Farm subsidies became an issue in Miller's campaign last week when an Alaska blogger incorrectly reported that he'd collected thousands of dollars in connection with a 1,000-acre plot of land near Delta Junction that Miller himself describes as "overgrown." Miller and his staff denied those accusations to Alaska Dispatch. Until Monday night, the campaign had also dodged questions as to whether Miller had received federal farm subsidies for land in Kansas, where he once lived.

After Alaska Dispatch received Miller's farm subsidy records under the Freedom of Information Act and told the Miller campaign about them on Monday, Miller's staff confirmed he received federal payments for 140 acres of cropland he owned in Kansas between 1990 and 1998.

"Like the vast majority of farmers in that region, Joe received payment from the USDA in exchange for managing his crops according to government standards," said campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto in an e-mail Monday night.

Dispatch had earlier linked a Joseph W. Miller -- Miller's legal name -- to farm subsidies for land in Kansas sent to a post office box in Anchorage when Miller was working in the city as an attorney. Miller's campaign was asked last week whether the candidate was the Joe Miller who got those funds but refused to answer until late Monday. Since the question was asked, Alaska Dispatch linked candidate Joe Miller to that address -- P.O. Box 112926 in Anchorage.

This is the Anchorage address at which the attorney and his family received Permanent Fund dividend checks; it is the address Miller used on his state hunting and fishing licenses; and a Freedom of Information Act request has now revealed it is the address to which the U.S. Department of Agriculture mailed 61 farm subsidy checks worth a total of $7,235 from 1991 through 1997.

The subsidies -- ranging from $2 to $1,621 -- were for sorghum and wheat deficiencies, an agriculture conservation program, disaster assistance, and production flexibility on wheat on sorghum, according to payment records from the Department of Agriculture.

When he filed a disclosure form with the Alaska Public Offices Commission in 1997 as he was taking a job as a state magistrate, he said he owned a farm in Geary County, Kan. The APOC form does not disclose how much money Miller was getting from the government at the time, but in reporting sources of income more than $100, it does note income from the U.S, Department of Agriculture, which disperses farm subsidies through its Farm Services Agency.

"The growth of stimulus programs, the growth of basically government bailouts to industries that are failing, it's not the American way," Miller told Real Clear Politics earlier this month. "It's not the free market way. And it's killing the competitive edge."

Farm subsidies are a federal stimulus program started during the Great Depression to help failing farms. Citizens Against Government Waste has for years been saying almost exactly the same thing about farm subsidies that Miller now says about other federal aid programs.

The Miller campaign had tried to duck the question of whether the Sarah Palin- and Tea Party Express-backed candidate ever received any such payments. On Monday afternoon, DeSoto continued to evade the issue. Asked whether Miller had ever gotten any federal money in the form of farm subsidies, DeSoto repeated neither Miller nor anyone in his family has ever received any farm subsidies for their land in Alaska. Pressed about land in Kansas, he said he did not know if Miller ever received farm subsidies for land he owned there. DeSoto said he would try to find out.

That answer came from DeSoto after yet more questions from Alaska Dispatch Monday evening.

"Joe owned cropland in Kansas from approximately the years 1990 to 1998," said DeSoto in an e-mail, declining further comment. "Before moving to Alaska, the total amount of cropland was roughly 140 acres. He sold a portion of that land when he moved in 1994 to Alaska and sold the rest by 1998."

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, farm subsidy costs to the American taxpayer "are particularly indefensible since the myths used to justify the continuation of farm subsidies -- that they are needed to preserve small family farmers -- are laughably far from the truth. The arguments that have been used to perpetuate these policies never held much water, but they are less valid now than they ever were. The truth is that farm subsidies don't help small farmers, but instead help the wealthiest farmers get richer, enabling them to expand their operations and gobble up more farmland, and turning the small towns of rural America into ghost towns. Subsidies hurt poor people in America and poor farmers in developing nations, all at an exceedingly high cost to U.S. taxpayers."

A Yale-educated attorney, Miller, 43, himself wouldn't have had much time to work the land when he collected most of the money. He was attending law school, and later was working as a lawyer in Alaska, more than 2,800 miles north of Kansas.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.