Aygust 1, 2002   #179
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective

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Once again Sen. Tom Harkin (Dem.-Iowa) has shown family farmers that the "profile in courage" they had hoped for when he became Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee was but a cruel delusion.

His inability to stand up with family farmers and speak truth to corporate agribusiness in the recent debate over the 2002 farm bill has now been compounded not only by his acquiescence in allowing the vote today in his committee on the nomination of Thomas Dorr, the Bush Administration's selection for USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development, but in addition to his ineptness in forcing USDA Secretary Ann Veneman to assist in the investigation of the past --- dubious at best --- financial dealings of the nominee.

As one can see in the following articles (the last four having appeared previously in Issues #113, #118, #141 and #165 respectively of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER) they show that Dorr should never have been considered --- much less nominated --- for such a position given his disdain for family farm agriculture and wrong-headed approach to rural development.

As Mike Callicrate, a St. Francis, Kansas cattleman and outspoken critic of corporate agribusiness, so wisely pointed out in an ACRES USA interview last March:

"I think it's important to recognize the difference between economic development and community development. A new Wal-Mart coming into the community might be considered economic development by some people. Economic development according to the USDA is a job for a bankrupt farmer.

"Is that community development? Community development would be where farmers receive a fair price for what they produce, and have the money to spend on Main Street, at independent, locally owned businesses that generate a seven-times multiplier effect in that community, and generate the wealth that is critical for the survival of this entire nation. That's community development. Many forms of socalled economic development are actually destructive to our economic system," he adds.

Clearly, as Carroll, Iowa farmer Vern Tigges, a member of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, wrote in a July 28 letter-to-the-editor to the Des Moines Register, the USDA is supposed to keep family farmers on the land and advocate for the interests of rural Americans.

"The system of agriculture that Dorr advocates would replace 500 independent family farms with one `centrally controlled' mega-farm (255,000 acres). His support for the factory-farm model of livestock production would further the expansion of giant hog farms that pollute the environment, disrupt rural communities and force family farmers off the land. His nomination to the USDA should be defeated immediately. If Dorr is appointed undersecretary of rural development, the prosperity and health of rural communities, access to economic opportunity for farm and rural families and the future of this country's rural environment are at stake."

Once again, however, we see "politics as usual" rear its ugly head for while the Senate and particularly the Democrats in that legislative body are screaming for tougher and tougher restrictions on corporate accounting and the conduct of corporate executives, Senator Harkin refuses to stand his ground and demand Secretary Veneman provide he and his committee with a detailed financial accounting of a man who admittedly avoided federal farm payment regulations and now will --- if confirmed by Harkin's committee and the U.S. Senate --- ultimately control millions and millions of taxpayer dollars.

Opponents of Harkin's actions and Dorr's nomination are being asked to immediately contact the Iowa senator's office and their own senators at once. Senator Tom Harkin -- (202) 224-3254 Senate Switchboard -- (202) 224-3121


PHILIP BRASHER, DES MOINES REGISTER: U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa decided Monday to allow a committee vote on embattled Agriculture Department nominee Tom Dorr after the Bush administration refused to turn over additional records on the Iowan's finances.

Republicans predict that the Democratic-controlled Senate Agriculture Committee would approve Dorr's nomination as undersecretary for rural development on Thursday. Dorr's nomination has been on hold for months, most recently because of disclosures about his violation of government farm-subsidy rules.

In an exchange of letters Monday with Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Harkin said his panel "will have to make a decision" on Dorr "based on the troubling and inadequate information it has." Harkin, a Democrat, said it "is now clear that neither the nominee nor the department intends to cooperate further with the committee."

Democrats control the committee 11-10, but Republicans expect at least one Democrat to vote for Dorr.

"At this point it appears there are a sufficient number of votes," said Keith Luce, the committee's Republican staff director. Harkin aides said they didn't know when the full Senate would take up Dorr's nomination, assuming he is approved by the committee. Dorr has been working as a $120,000-a-year consultant since his nomination in April 2001.

Dorr's nomination initially ran into criticism because of allegations that he favored corporate agriculture and was insensitive to minorities. But in March it was disclosed that he once repaid the government $17,000 for violations of government payment rules in 1994 and 1995. Dorr managed his family's farming operations near Marcus [Iowa] before coming to Washington last year.

The Agriculture Department, which investigated Dorr further at the Senate committee's request, revealed last month that his family was repaying an additional $17,000 for violations. The department said it was impossible to tell whether the Dorrs owed any more money because key records are no longer available.

Last week, Harkin asked for records going back to 1988 on a variety of Dorr family members, farmers Dorr had worked for, and various business entities connected to the Dorr family. Dorr has acknowledged that he structured the farm's finances to avoid the $50,000-per-producer cap that was then in effect for farm subsidies. On an audiotape, he was recorded telling a family member the department could "raise hell" if the farm were audited.

Also Monday, Harkin released a letter from Iowa State University economist Neil Harl supporting the committee's continued investigation.

Veneman said in a letter to Harkin that his committee's "massive request for information" was unnecessary and would tie up USDA staff who needed to implement the new farm law.

"The best course of action is to proceed forward, take a stand, and make a decision on this nomination," Veneman wrote.

Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is Dorr's strongest supporter in the Senate, said "it's time to vote up or down" on the nomination.


The National Family Farm Coalition, which has been leading the fight against Thomas Dorr's nomination to Undersecretary of Rural Development, reiterated their opposition to Dorr Wednesday and called on the Senate Agriculture Committee to vote no on his nomination. The committee has scheduled a vote this Thursday. More than 165 farm, religious, labor, consumer and environmental groups signed a letter opposing the nomination.

"Thomas Dorr's past record and statements show that he is for corporate-controlled agriculture, factory livestock production, opposes sustainable agriculture, and sees ethnic diversity as an impediment to economic development," said George Naylor, an Iowa corn farmer and member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. "As if that weren't enough, he also cheated the taxpayer when he received farm payments for which he was not eligible. Should he be in charge of the agency that is the engine of development for rural America? No way!"

Dorr admitted in March that he structured his farm's finances to avoid the producer cap for farm subsidies. He repaid the government $17,000 for these violations in 1994 and 1995. Last month the USDA revealed that, due to further investigations sparked by Dorr's confessions, another of Dorr's family trusts has had to repay another $17,000 for additional violations. Chairman Harkin has requested more information about Dorr's operation and any additional abuse of government regulations. USDA has refused to turn over any additional records on the Iowan's finances.

"As a farmer, I am outraged that Dorr has suggested that the way he structured his farm to maximize his government payments is standard operating procedure," said Bill Christison, a Missouri grain farmer and president of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and National Family Farm Coalition. "Not only that, but USDA has yet to release full information about him. Should the Senate Agriculture Committee really reward USDA's refusal of full information on this nominee? The information we have already is damaging enough --- what else does Dorr have to hide?"

"Considering the history of racial discrimination at USDA, I find it highly inappropriate that President Bush has chosen a nominee that stated publicly that lack of ethnic diversity builds successful communities," said Leon Crump of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. "Mr. Dorr would be required to work within minority communities, but has not demonstrated that he has the sensitivity to do that."

"With all that we are dealing with in farm country right now, we do not need the added burden of Thomas Dorr at USDA" said Christison. "Mr. Dorr's vision is not the vision rural America needs to survive."


PHILIP BRASHER, DES MOINES REGISTER: The family of embattled U.S. Agriculture Department nominee Thomas Dorr is repaying the government another $17,000 following a new investigation into its farming operations. Dorr, who manages the Iowa farm, and his family gave back a similar amount after an earlier review found violations of government payment rules in 1994 and 1995.

The latest refund, which the Agriculture Department disclosed to the Senate on [June 27], covers the same time period but a different segment of the family's operations. A report to the Senate Agriculture Committee said it was impossible to tell whether the Dorrs owed any more money because records for earlier years are no longer available.

Dorr's nomination has been stalled for more than a year, first because of objections raised by organizations opposed to some of his views, and then because of questions about his finances.

In a letter accompanying the report, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman urged Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin "to finally move forward" on Dorr's nomination. Dorr has acknowledged that he structured the Marcus farm's finances in a way to avoid the $50,000-per-producer cap that the USDA then had on government payments.

On an audiotape, he was recorded telling a family member the department could "raise hell" if the farm were audited. The department earlier had cleared Dorr of criminal wrongdoing in connection with the overpayments. Officials didn't say at the time that they would ask for a refund.

Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, issued a statement saying the report and accompanying documents "seem to raise some questions" and require review by the committee staff. Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, supports Dorr's nomination and has predicted the committee will approve it when Harkin permits a vote.

"It's time for the Senate to get a rural-development leader in place at USDA so that the rural-development provisions of the farm bill can be implemented," Grassley said.

The latest refund, which includes about $10,000 in subsidies and $7,000 in interest, stemmed from an investigation initiated last September following a hot-line complaint to the USDA's inspector general. The investigation covered the second of two family trusts that own some of the land Dorr operates.

Dorr is not a trustee or beneficiary of that trust, as he is on the trust that was the subject of the original investigation in 1996. At the request of the Senate committee, the department also checked its records for the Dorr farm from 1988 through 1993 and found that the operation was structured essentially the same as in 1994 and 1995.


Billing himself as president and chief executive officer of Pine Grove Farm and a “pretty passionate family farmer,” who envisions 225,000 acre farms in his native Iowa, while his family farm neighbors characterize him as a poster boy for corporate agribusiness and they “don't know if he could start a tractor and get it across the field," Thomas Dorr has been nominated by George W. Bush as U.S. undersecretary for rural development.

In his hometown of Marcus, and throughout the state’s farming community, farmers say he would do nothing to preserve the small family farm and fear he would only speed up trends of fewer farmers and bigger farms, rather than safeguarding independent farmers.

"He would be very counter to rural development, unless you would consider that rural development is one farmer in every county," Verdell Johnson, a Republican and farmer who has known Dorr since he was a child, told the Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Dukes Lee.

"Who are his friends? I don't think he's got any," said Marvin Pick, a retired farmer whose farm sits next to one of Dorr's farms. His adversaries offer measured praise. They describe Dorr as an intelligent, driven and successful farmer, but they don't want him helping set policies for rural America as the USDA rural development office is charged with helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America, which includes family farmers.

In 1998 Dorr told a New York Times reporter of his vision of a 225,000-acre farm operation. The average Iowa farm is closer to 350 acres. The operation would be "made up in three "pods," each with its own manager but sharing an information system back at farm headquarters," the Times wrote.

If farms were 225,000 acres each, there would be fewer than 140 farms in Iowa, commented Neil Harl, an Iowa State University agricultural economist who
described Dorr's philosophies as "frightening."

Dorr said his comments have been misinterpreted. "It's a creative attempt to keep people actively involved in their farming units, while giving them the advantages of newer technologies," Dorr said and added that he was not advocating the elimination of Iowa farms. "This would allow them to be competitive in a nontraditional way," he said.

In 1995, Dorr charged that the Iowa State Extension Service  "was bogged down in tradition" and no longer served a useful purpose.

"He wouldn't fit my concept of rural development," said Dennis Keeney, former director of ISU's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He said Dorr, while serving on the Iowa Board of Regents, barged into the Leopold Center's campus offices and complained about sustainable-agriculture programs.

Keeney told Lee that ISU officials had to ask Marvin Pomerantz, the regents president at the time, to explain to Dorr that he needed an appointment. "The regents can't just walk into an office and give you hell, but he was doing that," Keeney said. "You'd all of a sudden look up, and there he was. . . . He was badgering the staff."

Iowa’s Republican Senator Sen. Charles Grassley has confidence in Dorr --- "a progressive farmer who has worked hard to harness technology and improve agricultural operations in an increasingly competitive world market."

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, initially bristled over Dorr's nomination, saying, "I would be very disturbed if someone like that got into a position of power." But Harkin, who will play a key role in Dorr's confirmation process as ranking Democrat on the committee, according to the Register’s George Anthan, now sounds more conciliatory.

Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said Dorr is well-qualified. "The undersecretary . . . should be someone who is an innovative thinker, someone who understands issues of agriculture, trade, economic development and technology," Stanzel said. "Tom Dorr has a unique understanding of all those issues."

Some of Dorr’s neighbors, however, who know him say Bush will have his hands full with a man they call self-centered and arrogant. "He's arrogant, abrasive and self-centered," said Johnson, 64, the farmer who lives near Cleghorn. "He's not above walking over the top of somebody."

Dorr farms about 3,000 acres. While his operation has grown, others in the Marcus community have had to take second or third jobs to pay their bills.

According to an August, 1999 USDA Economic Research Service forecast  that while the average farm operator household income ($54,503) in 1999 was on a near par with the U.S. household income, farm income was only 8.6% of that total. From 1995 through 2000  the yearly average of farm income of the total farm operator household income has been 11.16%.

Dorr's farming record had led to political appointments before. Former Gov. Terry Branstad asked him to serve as a Iowa State Board of Regents. He also served on the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Dorr was a farm policy adviser for Bush during the last presidential campaign and his two grown children helped on the President-Select’s campaign. Dorr has been a generous financial backer of Republicans in Iowa and Washington. He gave Bush $2,000 toward his campaign in 1999.


"I think you ought to perhaps go out and look at what you perceive the three most
successful rural economic environments in this state. . . . youill notice when you get to
looking at them [the counties] that they're not particularly diverse, at least not
ethnically diverse . . . [the counties are] very diverse in their economic growth, but
they have been very focused, they have been very non-diverse in their ethnic
background and their religious background . . . There's something there obviously that
has enabled them to succeed and to succeed very well."
                      ---- Thomas Dorr

These remarks, during a December, 1999 Iowa State University video-taped conference,
in addition to a number of other controversial views have brought calls from farm,
environmental groups  and 18 members of the Congressional Black Caucus  to Senators
Tom Harkin (Dem-Iowa) and Richard Lugar (Rep.-Indiana) of the Senate Agriculture
Committee opposing the nomination of Thomas Dorr as USDA Undersecretary for
Rural Development.

In their call the Black Caucus cited "USDA's historic bias against minority farmers,”
saying they doubted Dorr's "ability to serve all American farmers in a way that is
sensitive to their needs and struggles." The Black Farmers Association and the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People also have registered their concerns
over Dorr’s nomination.

A former Iowa Board of Regents member, Dorr in the videotaped recording of the
conference first made public in May in the Des Moines Register, in addition to attributing
the economic success of three rural Iowa counties [Carroll, Lyon and Sioux,
predominantly white and Christian] to their being "very non-diverse in their ethnic
background and their religious background," also said he thought that the economically
ideal Iowa farm would be 225,000 acres in size and lamented that Iowa had not been
"more aggressive" in attracting the type of factory hog farming that has taken hold in
North Carolina and other Southern states.

Based on the latest US Census of Agriculture data, making Dorr's ideal farm size a
reality would cut the number of independent farms in the state from roughly 90,000
currently to 139, driving 99.8% of farms out of business.  (There are currently
31,166,699 acres of farmland in Iowa, averaging 343 acres per farm.)

If the Dorr formula was applied to the entire country, the number of independent farms
would plummet by 99.7% from 1.9 million to roughly 4,200.  The nation's farms
currently encompass 931 million acres of farmland, averaging 487 acres per farm.

In addition, the growth of factory hog farms, in which up to 20,000 hogs can be located
on plots as small as two acres, has been a source of public outcry in rural areas of North
Carolina and other states.  Hog waste pits have ruptured, causing massive drinking water
contamination; persistent, noxious odors have dropped property values for people living
downwind of the farms; and, thousands of small hog farmers have been driven out of

Dorr was a former campaign official in the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign. On July
23, 1999  when candidate Bush named him to be the co-chair of his Iowa campaign’s
finance committee on July 23, 1999, Bush would give a speech in Iowa in Spanish about
the need to reach out to different groups.

Dorr, who was also a contributor to Bush's campaign, and served as a transition adviser,
has drawn praise from the White House. Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters
that Dorr is a highly qualified nominee, "an innovative thinker" with "a unique
understanding of [agricultural] issues."


Leaders of the National Farm Action Campaign announced  . . . that they are
dramatically increasing their efforts to block the controversial nomination of Thomas
Dorr of Marcus, Iowa as USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development.

"Dorr's support for large agribusiness would spell disaster for rural America," said
George Naylor of the National Farm Action Campaign. "We were successful last year
in forcing the postponement of Dorr's confirmation hearing.  Now we must block Dorr's
nomination once and for all." Last May, over 160 rural, environmental, civil rights and
labor organizations joined the family farm movement to block Dorr's nomination.

Members of the National Farm Action Campaign are conducting an aggressive
grassroots outreach effort, including direct mail to thousands of farmers, as part of their
national effort to block Dorr. In addition, representatives of the campaign will testify at
Dorr's confirmation hearing in Washington. The Senate Agriculture Committee has
scheduled Dorr's confirmation hearing for January 30th.

Following Dorr's nomination last spring, the National Farm Action Campaign
spearheaded a national grassroots effort to block Dorr, citing the following reasons for
their opposition:

* Dorr favors North Carolina's factory farm model of hog production, and will use his
post at the USDA to further the expansion of giant factory farms that pollute the
environment, disrupt rural communities, and force family farmers off the land.
* During a videotaped meeting at Iowa State University in 1999, Dorr made comments
suggesting that ethnic and religious diversity hinder rural economic development.
* There remain unresolved allegations that Dorr was involved in a payment scheme
several years ago to collect farm subsidies for which he knew he was ineligible. The FSA
and the USDA continue to refuse to release information and documents regarding this
alleged scandal, even after repeated Freedom of Information Act appeals by members of
the National Farm Action Campaign.

"It's pretty simple. Dorr is a bad appointee for an agency that is supposed to keep family
farmers on the land and advocate for the interests of rural Americans," said Naylor.
"Rural America deserves better much better."


JANE NORMAN, DES MOINES REGISTER: A "full and thorough" investigation by
the U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general has found no wrongdoing on the
part of an Iowan nominated for a top agency post, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman
told the Senate Agriculture Committee Tuesday.

In a letter to committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Dem.-Iowa., Veneman also mounted her
most aggressive defense to date of Thomas C. Dorr, the Marcus resident tapped by
President Bush to be undersecretary for rural development. The letter was given to The
Des Moines Register by USDA officials.

Veneman said "each day that passes without a vote raises fairness questions as to why
the committee will not move forward on this nomination." Dorr underwent a grueling
confirmation hearing before the committee earlier this year, during which numerous
questions were raised about a repayment of $17,000 made by Dorr following a 1995
review of his farm operations by the federal government.

The Farm Service Agency in Iowa reviewed the Dorr family trust in 1995 and found the
farm wasn't properly structured within the family trust, but there was no scheme by the
family to defraud the government, Sen. Charles Grassley, Rep.-Iowa., said at the time.
Dorr also said on an audiotape obtained by The Des Moines Register that that he
operated two family trusts to "quite frankly avoid minimum payment limitations."

At the hearing Dorr denied any improprieties, but Sen. Mark Dayton, Dem.-Minnesota
demanded a fuller investigation. Dayton urged the committee to hold off on a vote until
all the financial entities involved in the Dorr operation could be probed in connection
with their federal farm payments, including 1988 through 1995.

Bush nominated Dorr more than a year ago, and he deserves a chance to serve, said
Veneman. "He is a good man and a fair person --- the type you would expect from
Iowa," she said. She said earlier this year that Harkin said he would move forward with
the nomination once the farm bill was completed. The legislation was signed into law
May 13.

"However, in our telephone conversation last week, you expressed concern about
whether Tom Dorr should be confirmed in this position. I strongly disagree and ask that
you schedule a committee vote on his nomination as soon as possible," Veneman said.

Aides to Harkin pointed out that the investigation by the inspector general did not cover
the years 1988 through 1992, specifically cited by Dayton as needing review. Veneman
said Dayton's request repeated much of what took place during the hearing, interviews,
and one-on-one meetings that members had with Dorr.

Aides to Veneman gave the Register a copy of an informational memorandum for
Veneman prepared by Joyce Fleischman, acting inspector general for the USDA. The
inspector general is an independent office. Fleischman said an inquiry was opened
following a confidential complaint made to a USDA "hot line" that Dorr may have
admitted on an audiotape that he received subsidy money for which he was not eligible.

The inquiry was to determine whether a criminal investigation should be opened,
Fleischman said. She said the inspector general looked at Farm Service Agency files at
the Iowa state FSA office related to Dorr and all entities related to him for the years
1993 through 2001, and an analysis of year-end records covering 1993, 1994 and 1995.
The Farm Service Agency also conducted a review in December 2001.

Based on that information, the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Iowa in
Sioux City declined to prosecute Dorr, Fleischman said. She said no investigation was
conducted for the years 1988 through 1992 included in the request by Dayton because
the original complaint did not cite those years, "nor was any information developed
during the course of the preliminary inquiry to cause us to expand our review."

Veneman said in her letter to Harkin that the coming months will be a critical time for
the USDA as it begins implementation of the farm bill, and Dorr's leadership is needed.
Bill Burton, a Harkin spokesman, said Dorr is already on the payroll as a USDA
consultant, so his expertise is available. Burton said Harkin will schedule another hearing
on Dorr "fairly soon."


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