Sackcloth, ashes, repentance, and an (alleged) apology

Ken Cook, who heads the Environmental Working Group, the organization farmers love to hate, takes me to task for a statement in a recent column about subsidies.

My comment about the EWG, he points out, was absent one word, which I herewith italicize and boldface:

“We could talk about how the Environmental Working Group allegedly uses its tax-free foundation status (a subsidy), with the bulk of its support from other tax-free foundations (all subsidies), to engage in political activities, supposedly a no-no.”

“I must insist that you issue a clarification on this point,” Mr. Cook e-mails.

He is correct, and clarification is hereinabove accomplished.

In petitions asking the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the EWG's tax-exempt status, it is alleged that the organization has flouted the rules for tax-exempt entities by engaging in activities with a political bent.

The IRS doesn't comment on matters before it, so the complaints against the EWG constitute only allegations.

The EWG, which has garnered seemingly never-ending publicity by making public the USDA's database on farm program payments, said on its Web site, “We think current (farm) policy has badly failed almost everyone in agriculture (except) the very largest producers of a few favored crops.”

A political statement or an allegation? You judge.

Following the EWG's listing Riceland Foods as the top recipient of USDA payments, much ado was made in the national media and by anti-farm lawmakers, implying that the Stuttgart, Ark., cooperative was being enriched at taxpayer expense.

No clarification, of course, that Riceland itself owned only about 240 acres of farmland, which it was temporarily renting to a member and on which no government payments were received, and that the millions in USDA payments Riceland received didn't go into its coffers but were distributed to individual members.

An EWG spokesperson, responding to queries about whether the timing of the release of the payment data could have an impact on House/Senate farm bill conference committee deliberations then under way, was quoted, “Certainly, we think it can have a large effect.”

An attempt to exert political influence? Or only an allegation?

“The EWG puts out misleading data,” said then Riceland CEO Dick Bell. “We don't get this money and keep it — it's distributed to 9,000 of our members.”

EWG, which allegedly gets the bulk of its support from other tax-exempt foundations, received more than $1.5 million in 2000 from the Joyce Foundation, which in its filing with the Internal Revenue Service, noted that the grant to the EWG was “for work on 2002 farm bill.” Politics? Or allegation?

The list of allegations about the EWG's work to influence public opinion and policy on behalf of anti-farm, anti-pesticide, pro-organics, and other activist efforts is extensive.

And finally, this from the EWG's own Web site: “Our research brings to light unsettling facts that you have a right to know. It shames and shakes up polluters and their lobbyists. It rattles politicians and shapes policy. It persuades bureaucracies to rethink science and strengthen regulation.”

Hmmm, and that isn't political activity?

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