# Transparency



USDA makes federal farm subsidies less transparent

Anne Schechinger is Senior Analyst of Economics for the Environmental Working Group. This report, which she co-authored with the EWG’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber, first appeared on the EWG’s website. 

The Environmental Working Group’s newly updated Farm Subsidy Database shows that federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2021 totaled $478 billion. This huge amount of taxpayer money does almost nothing to help farmers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or adapt to adverse weather conditions caused by the climate crisis.

Our database update also shows that farm subsidy funding still goes to the largest and wealthiest farms, which can weather the climate crisis best, and that payments are getting less transparent, obscuring who has received almost $3.1 billion in payments. 

The Department of Agriculture’s subsidy funding could be used in much more useful ways that would help farmers in mitigating their emissions and becoming more resilient to hazardous weather conditions. Instead, it’s still a handout for rich landowners, city dwellers and family members of farmers. Even the USDA is benefiting, with one of its divisions receiving almost $350 million in payments.

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When "reasonable" becomes unreasonable

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

The legislature wrote Iowa’s public records law 55 years ago, and one of the statute’s tenets was the belief people deserve to know how state and local governments spend their tax money.

Another important concept in the law is that fees for copies of government records must be reasonable and cannot exceed the actual cost of providing the documents.

That brings us today to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, where administrators appear not to grasp what “reasonable” means.

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Iowa governor still ducking public questions

Three weeks after her re-election victory, Governor Kim Reynolds continues to avoid unscripted interactions with journalists. She has not held a news conference for 20 weeks, and her public appearances since the November election have not even built in “gaggles” where reporters could informally ask a few questions.

Reynolds cut off press conferences about four months before the 2018 midterm election as well, but during that year’s campaign, she participated in three televised debates and pledged to hold weekly news conferences if elected. Though she didn’t keep that promise, she provided several opportunities for reporters to ask about her plans soon after winning the 2018 race.

This year, Reynolds agreed to only one debate with her Democratic challenger and made no commitment regarding future news conferences. The governor’s spokesperson Alex Murphy has not replied to Bleeding Heartland’s questions about plans for media availabilities.

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Ferentz fields questions, but governor rarely does

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

It is safe to assume Kirk Ferentz has not enjoyed the glorious autumn in Iowa the way he would prefer.

He has feverishly worked his Bubble Yum during the Hawkeyes’ games this season. He has been worked over during his post-game press conferences and again at his weekly meetings with the media on Tuesdays.

Being a college football coach is never a picnic. But this year, life for the longest-tenured football coach in big-time college athletics has been more stressful than most years.

We saw that last week when the normally measured coach referred to the media session with journalists following the Hawkeyes’ 54-10 loss to Ohio State University as an “interrogation.” 

But I come today to sing Kirk Ferentz’s praises, not to dog-pile on him.

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Iowa governor not even close to keeping one 2018 campaign promise

“If elected, will you commit to weekly press conferences?” a moderator asked during the first debate between Iowa’s candidates for governor in October 2018. “I do it all the time,” Governor Kim Reynolds replied.

Asked again during that campaign’s third debate whether she would hold weekly press conferences, Reynolds claimed to have already made that commitment, adding, “If there’s any ambiguity, I will.”

Bleeding Heartland’s review of the governor’s public schedule reveals she has not come close to keeping that promise for most of the past four years. After a period of greater accessibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, Reynolds held just four formal news conferences during the second half of 2021. More than 40 weeks into this year, she has held only ten news conferences, the last occurring on July 12.

Reporters with access have sometimes been able to ask the governor a few questions at a “gaggle” after a bill signing or another public event. But most weeks, Reynolds has not scheduled even an informal media availability.

Avoiding unscripted questions on camera gives Reynolds greater control over news coverage of her administration, and keeps awkward moments mostly out of public view.

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When "reasonable" takes a turn that is not

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

“Reasonable” is a word that is used often in Iowa’s laws. Reasonable fees. Reasonable rules. Reasonable efforts. Reasonable force.

But events in recent weeks show government officials are not always following what many Iowans would think the term means. And when government officials deviate from “reasonable,” they should not be surprised if their standing or the stature of their agency suffers in the public’s eyes.

Consider the Linn-Mar Community School District.

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