The recent kerfuffle over the Iowa GOP and questions surrounding federal subsidies has prompted a renewed (and long overdue) look at just where your tax dollars are going when Uncle Sam hands out subsidies. One of the larger expenditures is the money paid out to help small farmers who produce the food the nation needs, but are subject to the vagaries of weather, insects and all manner of threats to their crops. It’s a story as old as the nation and its roots go back to a time when the government was actually attempting to do something useful. Unfortunately, as this report in the Washington Free Beacon reveals, the remaining, actual small farmers benefiting from these programs is overshadowed by very wealthy individuals and corporations which suck up large quantities of the cash.

Federal crop insurance subsidies went to billionaires, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) program provides subsidies to cover the crop losses for farmers, regardless of their income. The GAO report, released Wednesday, found that thousands of individuals with incomes over $500,000 have received $317 million in subsidies over five years, and not all were farmers.

“Some of the highest income participants received income from operating large farms, but others received some of their income from nonfarming sources, according to our analysis,” the GAO said. “For example, more than 70 of the crop insurance participants we identified as among the highest income during 1 or more years from 2009 through 2013 were managers or professionals, including attorneys, executives, or physicians.”

Four of the people who received more than $100K in subsidies were billionaires. Some of the other billionaire “farmers” earned the majority of their wealth from “mining, real estate, sports, and information technology.” There were plenty of lower income folks who could clearly use the help, but one analyst estimated that by simply trimming back the insurance subsidy payments to the most wealthy claimants the government could be saving $70M per year. Just think about that. Seventy million here, seventy million there… pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Just to be clear, I’m not begrudging those high earners their billions. Good for them! This is America and we want everyone to succeed. But if you’re doing that well and farming is only a minor part of your activities, do you really need to be collecting taxpayer funded subsidy checks? And yet this is what localized interests like the Iowa GOP are willing to go to the mat for. And as long as we keep putting forward a parade of candidates for high office who are willing to bend their knee to these interest groups, nothing is going to change. We’re fortunate that people like Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina have started breaking the mold and refusing to play along.

(Fiorina didn’t make it to the AG summit, but sent Hot Air this statement when we covered the results.)

The right answer ultimately is that the government shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing anything. Subsidies and a variety of tax credits distort the markets. But we need to phase out subsidies for sugar, oil and renewable fuels but do it at the same time so that we’re not disadvantaging any one state or industry.

Unfortunately, as important as this subject is for many conservatives, it gets swept under the carpet when the world is going up in flames and scandals swamp the headlines. But if the debates this time around are handled by responsible people who are interested in informing the voters rather than engaging in gotcha games, perhaps the issue will make it back into the national discussion.