Sonny Perdue fuels ethics scrutiny as Trump’s rural envoy

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Sonny Perdue fuels ethics scrutiny as Trump’s rural envoy

In addition to his blatant appeal to re-elect the president, Perdue has kept many farmers in Trump’s corner by spending unprecedented amounts in tax aid to offset the industry’s losses after years of trade unrest and painful biofuel policies. Democrats have questioned the practice but made almost no effort to put any conditions on the payments. Now Perdue faces new criticism for demanding federal corporations cram Trump’s sales letters into millions of USDA grocery boxes that are being distributed to families in need, amid objections from lawmakers and many food banks.

The Department of Agriculture says these activities are non-political and rejects claims that the letters signed are in violation of the Hatch Act, the federal law that prevents law enforcement officials from engaging in political activities.

Perdue, who has visited all 50 states since he took office in 2017, is a key link with the country elector, which Trump goes into effect on Nov. 3. Huge rural margins will be reached in major battlefield states like Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin will be more difficult this time, as Trump did in 2016, as many of those areas continue to feel the economic sting of its trade war with China, a lackluster pandemic response, and a ban on ethanol blends that his government distributed to oil refineries.

A poll by Fox News in July found this 49 percent of the country voters Trump backed and 40 percent backed Biden – a much tighter gap than Trump’s 25-point lead over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The secretary has made dozens of trips across the country to meet with farm producers, rural businesses and local executives. He often vouches for Trump’s affinity for farmers – a key endorsement for the industry given the president’s background as a reality TV star and real estate developer in Manhattan, a world apart from agriculture. Perdue also spread the government’s message on, for example, the need to adopt Chinese trade practices, even if it means immediate pain for producers.

Not all farmers and ranchers are enthusiastic about Perdue, who has implemented regulatory policies so effectively promote large agribusiness at the expense of smallholders. This trend convinced John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, to support Biden in November, POLITICO reported last month.

But for the most part, the rapid increase in money pouring into farmland and the continued reach of Trump officials and surrogates in the country appear to be producing results. A poll by DTN and Zogby Analytics in September gave Trump one 18 point edge over Biden among farmers.

Most critically, Perdue has developed a number of trade and pandemic relief programs that have channeled unprecedented amounts of taxpayers money to the agribusiness and have offset most of the sector’s financial losses since 2018. The government had already planned to pay farmers a record $ 37 billion a year – not including another $ 14 billion in additional payments that USDA introduced last month. Under the Obama administration, agricultural subsidies ranged from $ 10 to $ 13 billion a year.

The payouts are so high that World Trade Organization members recently confronted the US for potentially violating their commitments to cap “trade-distorting” farm subsidies at around $ 19 billion a year.

Trump routinely references the money at campaign events as his greatest gift to farmers and ranchers who are among his most loyal supporters.

“Are there farmers in this group? Because you have to love Trump, “he said at a September rally in Mosinee, Wis.” Did everyone get the money? “

The president’s use of the program as a political prop has angered Democrats so much that they threatened to halt USDA payments in a recently released emergency law to prevent the government from closing.

Democrats and surveillance groups also claim that the rescue programs designed by Perdue’s office have benefited the southern states and larger farms disproportionately. A Government Accountability Office report last month showed that under the 2019 Trade Aid Program, the average payment to producers in Georgia, Perdu’s home state, was more than $ 42,500 – the highest rate of any state and more than double the national average of 16,500 USD.

“He’s certainly put together a program that will benefit the harvest in his state,” said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, a top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, adding that “the government needs to stop playing favorites.”

USDA has repeatedly denied favoritism proposals, finding that the duty relief payments were tied to trade-related losses in every commodity sector. The department also notes that while large farms make up only one in 10 farms, they account for more than half of total arable land and nearly 80 percent of total agricultural output – meaning their trade-related losses were greater than those of smaller farms.

The North Carolina event in August with the President and Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and White House adviser, was held to introduce the $ 4 billion grocery box delivery program and to gather feedback from participating packers and farmers. But in a lengthy affirmation thereafter, Perdue praised Trump as a “forgotten people” champion and a tireless “business speed, not government speed” worker, among other things.

The impartial Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington claim that Perdue’s statements were a clear case of political activity in violation of the Hatch Act. “Secretary Perdue’s behavior is more than inappropriate for someone in his position,” CREW’s assistant director Donald Sherman said at the time.

Nick threshold brook, lead investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, described the incident as a “violation of the Hatch Act”.

“This obvious mix of official government duties and endorsing a candidate in an upcoming election is completely forbidden,” he said.

Finally, Perdue is being investigated to see if Trump’s signed letters need to be stored in millions of food boxes for hungry families. The letters included promotional language about the government’s efforts to “support America’s recovery every step of the way,” as well as health recommendations such as encouraging recipients to wash their hands and practice social distancing.

Democrats are not buying the ministry’s statement that politics played a “zero role” in the aid program.

“Using a federal aid program to distribute a self-promoting letter from the President to American families just three months before the presidential election is inappropriate and a violation of federal law,” a group of House Democrats wrote to Perdue in August. “We strongly recommend that you stop the practice immediately.”

But even if Perdue’s activities are viewed as violating the Ethics Act, the consequences are likely minimal: the Office of Special Counsel has found that at least 12 senior Trump officials have violated the Hatch Act in the course of its administration. but let go of most with a warning letter. Trump declined to respond to the one case brought before him for lawsuit involving former senior adviser Kellyanne Conway.

Trump’s White House “has so far really not disciplined any political officer who has violated the Hatch Act,” said Quellenbach.

He added, “It is not always clear when something is in breach of the Hatch Act as opposed to something that is just a gross, potentially abusive use of powers at term.”

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