Gazette-Mail editorial: Bean-counting to the tune of $125K

To Gov. Jim Justice and his family, $125,000 might not be a lot of money. They still made sure to ask for it. Nothing wrong there. Certainly nothing illegal. Still, there’s something about the whole thing that doesn’t sit well.

If you cast your mind back through all of the turbulence and troubles of the past few months you may remember the Trump administration began imposing stiff tariffs on import goods from China. The Chinese retaliated by putting heavy tariffs on U.S. exports to their country, including soybeans and corn, which ended up hurting America’s already struggling farmers. So, to bailout those in America’s heartland who wound up as collateral casualties in an international trade war, the Trump administration offered a $12 billion subsidy.

The maximum any farming business could receive was $125,000. Wouldn’t you know it, Justice Farms of North Carolina, owned by Justice and his family, received $121,398 in soybean subsidies and $3,602 in corn subsidies, according to a report from the Associated Press. It was by far the largest payout in West Virginia. It was also well above the national average received through the subsidy program, which was around $6,438 for soybeans and $152 for corn.

As AP reporter Anthony Izaguirre explained on the Gazette-Mail podcast “Mountain State Morning,” although the operation is called Justice Farms of North Carolina, the actual farmland is in Greenbrier County, where the governor lives. Farming operations were required to fill out requests for the money, but they didn’t have to prove specific losses. Justice said he didn’t know anything about the reimbursements.

Gov. Justice isn’t the only wealthy person to receive high payments from the bailout. Indeed, that’s part of the criticism of how the entire situation has been handled, with those across the political spectrum saying the subsidy program needs stricter monitoring. As the AP reported, many large farming operations were able to manipulate loopholes in the program to pull in much more than the $125,000 cap. At least Justice or his family only asked for the most they could legally get.

As it turns out, according to the AP, Justice Farms of North Carolina is yet another operation with some questionable financial transactions. Justice and his family have been accused of moving money around through the governor’s bewildering array of holdings to avoid paying fines, taxes and legal settlements over the years. The governor has, on a few occasions. announced all of his taxes and legal settlements squared, though questions about that remain.

Factoring all of this in, if nothing else, the whole thing just looks bad. The wealthiest man in West Virginia, who also happens to be the governor and a personal friend of the president, received the maximum subsidy (funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars) allowed from a program that was designed to help Americans financially hurt by bad trade policy. Even if Justice wasn’t the one making the decision here (like Trump, the governor has said his children are running his business empire, though that is far from entirely clear), a more shrewd politician would’ve backed away from this one.

It was all legal. There’s nothing for a court or law enforcement to do here. That doesn’t mean it was right. The fine for that type of violation is usually tallied at the ballot box.

Funerals for Monday, November 18, 2019

Blackwell, Emily - 5 p.m., Coonskin Clubhouse, Charleston.

Buhl, Dolores - Noon, Our Lady of the Hills Catholic Church, Pinch.

Carr, Charles - Noon, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, St. Albans.

Cobb, James - 1 p.m., Siniaville Cemetery, Statts Mills.

Duncan, Maxine - 1 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Evans, Anita - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.

Hedrick Sr., Judson - Noon, Stevens & Grass Funeral Home, Malden.

Honeycutt, Amanda - 2 p.m., Osborne Cemetery, Craddock Fork, Lake.

Jarrell, Michael - 1 p.m., Greene - Robertson Funeral Home, Sutton.

Karnes, Shirley - 2 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Stone, Penny - 2 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Wilmoth, Patricia - 7 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.