It didn’t take long after Doug LaMalfa announced he was running for Congress last month before a supporter of his Republican opponents went on the attack, zeroing in on just less than $4.7 million of federal subsidies paid to his family rice farm over the last 15 years.
Under the headline “Doug LaMalfa for Congress? Are you kidding me???” Sacramento-area conservative activist Aaron Park posted a logo on his blog showing Republican LaMalfa’s trademark cowboy hat emblazoned with two dollar signs.
The hat was perched atop a bag of rice.
“Nor-Cal Top-10 List of Farm-Aid Recipients,” the caption says.
In an interview, Park says he believes it’s important to point out LaMalfa’s family rice farm in Richvale has received millions of dollars of federal subsidies over the years, something he feels will be one of the biggest issues in the congressional race.
“It’s an issue about honesty and integrity,” Park said. “It’s about presenting yourself as one thing, when you’re not. He really isn’t a fiscal conservative. He’s a liberal conservative.”
LaMalfa bristled at the attack.
“This guy is a paid mudslinger,” LaMalfa said of Park, who is Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh’s state Senate campaign manager. “They try it in every campaign. It’s becoming a pretty old story.”
He said subsidies help “breadbasket” crop growers like his family offset the costs of burdensome government regulations, taxes, trade policies and escalating fuel costs that threaten to put them out of business.
The subsidies, he said, keep struggling farmers of rice, corn and other crops “on life support.”
LaMalfa’s family farm received $4.69 million of federal subsidies between 1995 and 2010, according to the Environmental Working Group, an organization that tallies federal farm aid.
When asked about LaMalfa’s subsidies this week, all four of his opponents said they were aware of the federal payments, although some stopped short of saying they would use them to attack LaMalfa, who has the endorsement of retiring U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico.
Republican Pete Stiglich, of Cottonwood, had no such problem.
Stiglich said it’s hypocritical for a fellow Republican to receive federal farm aid, especially because LaMalfa has billed himself as a leader in the fight against expensive government entitlement programs.
“When it meets his personal interest, it’s not a big entitlement,” Stiglich said.
Gregory Cheadle, a Happy Valley Republican, agreed.
“You can’t condemn welfare recipients on one end then get welfare on the other end,” Cheadle said. “ I mean 5 million bucks? Come on.”
Others were less aggressive about the issue.
The only Democrat to enter the race, Jim Reed of Fall River Mills, said he wasn’t planning to bring up the subsidies, but he will if LaMalfa prompts him to.
“I guess if we’re in the middle of a debate and he’s really going off on small government and reduced spending, it may come up,” Reed said.
“But I’m not planning on using it as weapon at this point.”
Spokesman Mark Standriff said Republican Sam Aanestad’s congressional campaign is for now going to showcase the former state senator’s record, which includes cutting government spending, promoting free markets and job growth.
He said Aanestad’s campaign had no immediate plans to make the subsidies an issue.
However, just minutes after the phone interview ended, Standriff emailed two scanned copies of articles the Chico Enterprise Record published in 2007 detailing Butte and Glenn counties’ farm subsidy recipients.
LaMalfa’s rice operation in Richvale, Dsl Farms, was the ninth-largest recipient in the northern Sacramento Valley, according to the article.
LaMalfa, a state senator who won his seat after trouncing Republican Rick Keene in 2010, said Keene’s campaign also tried to make the subsidies an issue in that election, and it didn’t work.
LaMalfa said he predicts the other candidates attacking will meet similar fates, because it amounts to attacking the livelihoods of farmers in the rural, agricultural-based 1st Congressional District.
“There’s a good line that comes to mind,” LaMalfa said.
“When you gripe about your farmer, don’t talk with your mouth full.”
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, published an agriculture backgrounder #2043, entitled How Farm Subsidies Harm Taxpayers, Consumers, and Farmers, Too, by Brian Riedl and published on June 20, 2007.