Listen to a Seminar on How to Get Unearned Cash from a Government Settlement With Black Farmers

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 26 2013 10:52 AM

Listen to a Seminar on How to Get Unearned Cash from a Government Settlement With Black Farmers

For three years, conservative journalists have fitfully worked to expose -- or ask the media to expose -- possible fraud in the settlement of Pigford v. Glickman. That lawsuit claimed that the Farm Service Agency had systematically denied grants to black farmers. After some legal wrangling, the 91 plaintiffs won: There would be $1.33 billion to dole out to the afflicted. But the standard for proving you deserved the money was frightfully ill-defined.

Andrew Breitbart and journalist Lee Stranahan ran around, respectively, trying to get media on the story and doing interviews with angry would-be whistleblowers. I did a little reporting on it and was overwhelmed. The New York Times assigned investigative reporters to the story, though, and their epic treatment made A1 today.

There's a lot here, and an overwhelming amount of people admitting, yeah, the settlement process was/is a mess. The Times quotes a "lawyer familiar with the Clinton administration’s stance": "It was better to err on the side of giving money to people who might not qualify if they went through litigation than to deny money to people who actually deserve it." But the piece ends with the stunning scene of Thomas Burrell, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, telling black churchgoers how to file for claims .

Lucky for us, Lee Stranahan managed to get a tape into one of Burrell's 2011 meetings.

Not a lot of confusion there. Burrell walks his audience through the easily-avoided traps keeping them from settlement cash.

"Judge says, here's my first question," says Burrell. "Did you own or lease or attempt to own or lease farmland?"

"I'm filing on behalf of my father," says the woman.

"Ah haaaa!" says Burrell. He walks through more possible issues, then re-casts the hypothetical question as a sob story.

"'The night before he died, he leaned over and told me 'Baby girl, I attempted to get that money,'" says Burrell. "I'm just telling you what Congress aid they'll do for you. Now you have to go home and pray about how you'll answer that."

For a very long time this story was a confusing-sounding distraction only mentioned by a few Republicans and conservative scribes. That's not true anymore.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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