Joni Ernst's family received nearly half a million dollars in federal farm subsidies

So much for that hardscrabble, up-by-your-bootstraps ethos

Published January 22, 2015 7:05PM (EST)

Joni Ernst             (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)
Joni Ernst (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

Delivering the official Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst related tales of a hardscrabble upbringing in which she "worked construction" with her father, took a job in the fast food industry, and placed plastic bread bags over her one pair of shoes so as to keep them dry when it rained. "Our parents may not have had much," Ernst said of herself and her schoolmates' families, "but they worked hard for what they did have."

The takeaway, of course, was that we should all be so self-reliant, not depending on government handouts to get by. In her speech, Ernst denounced "wasteful spending" and vowed that Republicans would cut it. The new GOP Congress, Ernst said, would work toward an America in which "you don’t need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference."

"You just need the freedom to dream big, and a whole lot of hard work," she continued.

Here's what the GOP rising star omitted from her paean to gritty self-reliance: Hard as her family may have worked, and fierce as Ernst may be in her opposition to big government spending, her family benefited more than $460,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009, per the District Sentinel. Beneficiaries included Ernst's father, Richard Culver, uncle Dallas Culver, and late grandfather Harold Culver. The Culvers' subsidies hardly set them apart from their neighbors; as the District Sentinel notes, Iowa ranks second only to Texas in farm subsidies, with the largely rural and agricultural state receiving $24.9 billion in subsidies between 1995 and 2012.

The revelation comes three months after Salon reported that Richard Culver's construction company received more than $200,000 in Montgomery County contracts while Ernst was the county auditor, despite a state conflict of interest law that voids contracts awarded to family members of any county employee.

Ernst isn't the first Republican to lambaste government spending, even as her family feeds at the federal trough. Four House Republicans who voted in 2013 to drastically cut spending on food stamps had received farm subsidies worth at least $7,883,824 combined, BuzzFeed reported at the time.

By Luke Brinker

MORE FROM Luke Brinker