Unraveling Breitbart's Pigford Conspiracy, Part 1: Sherrod And The Senate Supplemental

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

This morning, we laid out how the conspiracy theory Andrew Breitbart has laid out with regard to the settlement of the Pigford black farmer discrimination appears to require the complicity of the Senate Republican caucus, the Bush administration, and Hillary Clinton, among others. Over the next few days, we will dissect the faulty logic and lack of basic research Breitbart employs in putting his conspiracy together.

This post examines Breitbart's theory that after his misleading video catapulted Shirley Sherrod's name into the headlines, Senate Democrats pulled funding for the Pigford II settlement from a supplemental appropriations bill because they were worried that because Sherrod was a prominent Pigford claimant, her story would draw attention to the lawsuit and lead to the exposure of the Pigford "fraud."

This theory makes no sense, for a variety of reasons. The Pigford funding was removed after Republicans voted en masse against passing a bill with that funding; it was removed not alone but as part of a package of $22 billion that the House had added to a previous version of the bill; Senate Democrats publicly slammed Republicans for voting against that funding; and Senate Democrats vowed to attach the funding to other bills.

What Breitbart Alleged

Breitbart has repeatedly alleged that Pigford funding was pulled from a Senate appropriations bill in the wake of the Sherrod debacle because they didn't want to draw attention to it.

For example, in a December 6 BigGovernment.com blog post he released at the same time as his Pigford report, Breitbart wrote (emphasis added):

Despite the firestorm, there was still an unanswered question -- why on God's green earth was Shirley Sherrod fired?

My 1400-word piece said Sherrod helped the white farmer. The controversial video clip featured the basis for her defense, The President and Tom Vilsack were doubly informed of the whole story by both me and Sherrod herself.

My first clue came, ironically, from the epicenter of Breitbart-hate -- MSNBC. It was a week into the controversy. Nation editor Chris Hayes was filling in for Rachel Maddow and reported that I was responsible for black farmers not getting their settlement money.

"Conservative con artist, 1; black farmers, 0," liberal Journolist Hayes said snarkily.

Black farmers? Settlement money? I had no idea what he was talking about. None.

Later I became aware that on a CNN discussion on "the Sherrod fallout," April Ryan of Urban Radio Network mentioned the Pigford settlement. Ryan described Pigford as a "litmus test" of the Obama Administration's relationship with black Americans.

A quick Google search revealed that Ryan and Hayes had been alluding to the incredibly conspicuous news that days after Sherrod was fired by the Obama administration, funding for the $1.15 billion Pigford II settlement was pulled out from a supplementary war funding bill."

Keep in mind that everything Breitbart is saying there about Hayes is false.

Similarly, in a February 9 appearance on WMAL's The Grandy Group, Breitbart said: "They pulled out the $1.15 billion in Pigford II, the same week that they pulled -- that they fired Shirley Sherrod. She was set to make $13.3 million in it and didn't want to draw attention to whom she was as it relates to Pigford. So I had to research this to figure out why I got hit as hard as I did."

What Actually Happened

On May 27, 2010, the Senate passed a $59 billion war funding supplemental bill that included no Pigford funding. On July 1, 2010, the House passed a different version of the supplemental that included more than $20 billion in additional domestic spending, including the Pigford funding.

On July 19, 2010, Breitbart smeared Sherrod as a racist. According to Breitbart's theory, the Pigford funding was subsequently pulled from the supplemental by Democrats who were worried about increased scrutiny and wanted to protect the settlement.

But that's not what happened.

On July 22, 2010, Senate Democrats brought the supplemental -- including the Pigford funding -- to a vote. It failed, 46-51. Every Republican present voted against it. If Breitbart's theory is to make any sense at all (and it doesn't), it would have to be the Republicans who were trying to cover up Pigford by keeping the funding from passing, while the Democrats were bringing attention to it by calling it up for a vote and then having the majority of their caucus supporting it.

After the vote failed, the Senate sent their original version of the bill -- without the $20+ billion added by the House, including the Pigford funds -- back to the House.

What did Pigford-supporting Democrats do next? They drew more attention to Pigford!

Immediately after the supplemental vote failed, the Senate Democratic Communications Center put out the following release (via Nexis):

Nevada Senator Harry Reid released the following statement this evening after Republicans blocked approval of fair, legal settlements for African American farmers and Native American trust account holders for the third time in the last three months:

"I hoped that tonight the Senate could finally right a wrong that has been left unresolved for far too long. But Republicans stood in the way. For the fourth time in three months, Republicans blocked approval of the Pigford 2 and Cobell settlements for black farmers and Native American trust accounts respectively.

"As recent events have reminded us, the fact that justice and fairness were denied to black farmers for so many years continues to have ramifications today. That's why I have fought for so long to ensure that these groups, who were robbed of the resources and opportunities they rightly deserve, are made whole again.

"Republicans should be held accountable for standing in the way of justice for those affected. Their obstruction has not only hurt our economic recovery and our growth as a nation, it is now preventing individuals and families who suffered discrimination for decades from receiving a long-overdue resolution to their grievances."

A few days later, Gannett News Service reported that Senate Democrats were trying to attach the Pigford funding to another bill (via Nexis):

Black farmers are making one last push for congressional approval of a $1.25 billion loan discrimination settlement before Congress leaves town for the summer.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday Democrats will try to attach the settlement to a $30 billion small-business lending bill that might come up for a Senate vote Thursday

The settlement, known as Pigford II, was announced in February and would compensate those who were discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in obtaining loans and subsidies but were unable to claim money from the original Pigford case, which was approved during the Clinton administration.

And by early August, TPM Media was reporting on two more failed attempts to pass the funds.

If Pigford supporters were trying to cover up the settlement by pulling the funding from one bill, what exactly were they trying to do by attaching it to other bill?

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