Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

July 23, 2010

Paul's father-in-law received small USDA payments

FRANKFORT — The father-in-law of Republican Senate candidate Dr. Rand Paul received relatively small farm subsidy payments for 12 years — including a portion of a USDA payment due his deceased father’s estate in 1995.

Paul has come under fire in some quarters for his criticism of farm subsidies. During a recent radio interview Paul said the United States Department of Agriculture last year paid subsidies to “234 dead farmers” in Florida. CNHI News Service subsequently reported there were only five such payments — all legitimate because the farmer died during the crop year. He has also condemned soil conservation program payments which “pay farmers not to farm.”

Paul said his information came from a report in Readers’ Digest which ultimately relied on data collected by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington D.C. non-profit organization which collects USDA payment data and advocates for environmentally friendly farm policies.

That same database indicates Hilton Ray Ashby of Russellville, the father of Paul’s wife, Kelley, received $10,276 in soil conservation payments from USDA from 1995 through 2007. The same database shows Hilton Ray Ashby received one-third of a $1,596 payment in 1995 to the estate of H.T. Ashby.

Jesse Benton, Rand Paul’s campaign manager, confirmed that H.T. Ashby is the deceased father of Hilton Ray Ashby. CNHI News Service tried to speak with Hilton Ray Ashby, leaving messages on his home voice mail and with Benton, but was unable to reach him Friday.

Paul, who has no financial interest in the farm according to Benton, confirmed his father-in-law received the payments but said that doesn’t affect his opposition to them.

"I have stated clearly my opposition to the taxpayer paying people not to farm,” Paul said in a prepared statement.  “Especially with our massive deficits and debt, this is the type of program we simply cannot afford.  This applies to my friends and relatives as well as anyone else.  I don't think ill of my family — or anyone else for that matter — who has legally participated in this current program.  But I think it should be ended.  For them and everyone."

Don Carr, Senior Policy and Communications Advisor at EWG, said the payments to Ashby are “really not very large in the grand scheme of things.” He confirmed the payments were to keep acreage out of cultivation, thereby providing a buffer between farmland and streams to prevent soil erosion and minimize runoff of pesticides and fertilizer.

That’s something EWG supports, Carr said, although EWG is critical of some USDA payments, especially crop subsidies to corporations and large farming operations which Paul also condemns. Carr couldn’t confirm the circumstances under which the 1995 payment to the W.T. Ashby estate occurred. Benton said the payment occurred after the elder Ashby’s death.

Farm subsidies have become a key issue in the Senate race between Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, and Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway.  Rural and socially conservative areas of the state – especially the agriculturally dominated First District – are considered key to the race.  Paul openly courts the conservative vote but his position on farm subsidies troubles some in the farm community.

The two candidates appeared Thursday at a forum of the Kentucky Farm Bureau where Conway said he supported the farm subsidy program and Paul stuck to his earlier position that some of the USDA programs should be scaled back or eliminated.

Dan Smaldone, KFB Director of Public Relations, said Friday the payments to Paul’s father-in-law do not affect KFB’s policy of not endorsing candidates. He said Thursday’s forum was to allow the candidates to learn about KFB policies and he called the forum “enlightening” for KFB board members.

“Kentucky Farm Bureau supports current farm policy and we are going to work with whichever candidate is put into office this November,” Smaldone said.

Conway’s campaign spokeswoman, Allison Haley, said it’s hypocritical for Paul to criticize a program which benefits some of his relatives.

“Rand Paul favors imposing his risky ideas on everyone but himself,” Haley said. “He wants to eliminate scholarships for our children and countless other forms of help for Kentuckians – but no one can touch the payments to physicians that line his pocket. He wants term limits for every Senator but himself.  Now Rand Paul has railed against programs that support our farmers while his family is benefitting directly from the very same programs.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.


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