WASHINGTON, May 13, 2015 – Tea Party favorite Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., said last week he’s running for the Republican nomination to succeed the retiring Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., in 2016. His announcement came a week after he asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit the Farm Credit System (FCS) and study the system’s impact on agriculture, taxpayers and commercial bankers.
Stutzman’s letter to GAO, which mirrors the American Bankers Association’s criticism of FCS, ironically was dated the same day that a coalition of farm and rural groups wrote ABA President Frank Keating to challenge his assertions (see Agri-Pulse, May 6). But it’s not the first time he’s been at odds with agricultural interest groups. First elected in 2010, he joined forces with Heritage Action and was one of the first to advance the idea of splitting the “food” portion of the farm bill from the “farm” programs. Stutzman, co-owner of Stutzman Farms in Howe, served on the House Agriculture Committee from 2011-2012 and was a lower-level member of the GOP whip team until he crossed leadership in 2013 on a procedural farm bill vote.
And it’s not his first criticism of FCS. In an op-ed article for American Banker nearly a year ago, he echoed ABA claims that “taxpayers could be on the hook for a bailout in the near future.” He said he had heard from “numerous small lenders across Indiana who are left at a disadvantage” because Farm Credit lenders “are often able to undercut local lenders with lower rates.”
Stutzman asks GAO to find out whether FCS lending associations have loaned money at interest rates below those charged their competitors, to discover how much FCS entities make each year from selling crop insurance, and to examine the ownership of mineral rights by FCS banks and associations. His questions largely reiterated those that ABA posed in letters asking Congress to hold oversight hearings on Farm Credit.
It’s not clear how a broadside against Farm Credit will play in Stutzman’s campaign in the Republican primary next year in a state where Farm Credit of Mid-America is a significant agricultural lender and Coats’ former chief of staff, Eric Holcomb, is already in the running.
He already has been crossways with the Indiana Farm Bureau, the state’s largest general farm organization. “We’ve had problems with Congressman Stutzman,” Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock told Agri-Pulse. “He was the only Republican from Indiana that Farm Bureau did not endorse in the last election.”
Villwock said that Stutzman told Farm Bureau staff that he has had “numerous inquiries from the banking community about the Farm Credit System” and “had some questions he would like to have answered. He maintained that the letter to GAO was nothing more than being responsive to community banks in his district, making claims about these practices.”
“We here are longtime friends of Farm Credit and we have a lot of friends in banks. We have not heard any concerns from any of them,” Villwock said. “In Indiana, most of the banks see Farm Credit as a partner. Many community banks are not large enough to serve commercial farms. Many of them have done away with farm credit officers,” he added. Farm Bureau and allied Indiana farm organizations plan to use a scheduled quarterly meeting Friday to consider drafting a letter expressing concern about Stutzman’s criticism of Farm Credit, he said.
Ken Auer, CEO of the Washington-based Farm Credit Council, trade association for FCS lenders, cited the May 1 letter from more than 40 farm and rural groups in support of Farm Credit’s role in farm and rural communities. Stutzman’s letter to GAO, he said, “neither recognizes that long-standing role nor seeks a balanced analysis that would include an assessment of taxpayer support for commercial banks, their broad access to GSE funding and the financial success agricultural banks have long enjoyed.” He added, “Indiana farmers and rural residents support having choices and they are expressing that view to Mr. Stutzman.”
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