The hard part may be over for Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be secretary of agriculture. A former governor of Georgia with extensive business interests and land holdings, Perdue required roughly seven weeks to pull together the requisite financial disclosure documents in support of his candidacy; he handed them in on March 10. Now he is expected to meet with relatively easy confirmation, if the nice comments so far from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as endorsements from major farm lobbies, are any indication.

Does he deserve it? Well, it at least appears that Perdue has dealt appropriately with his private-sector activities. He has agreed with the Office of Government Ethics to resign his positions atop holding companies through which he operated various enterprises in his home state, including a grain export business. (In a protectionist-minded administration, his involvement with global markets may make Perdue one of the few pro-trade voices.) He will put his assets in a blind trust. Perdue did not do so during his tenure as governor of the Peach State, a decision that exposed him to multiple conflict-of-interest charges over eight years in office, which he dismissed as politically motivated. The State Ethics Commission fined him $1,900 in 2005 after finding that Perdue failed to report a campaign-related trip on a private airplane owned by one of his family’s businesses. The commission also ordered his campaign to return more than $18,000 in donations. At the time, Perdue’s lawyer described the infraction as minor and suggested that he had accepted the punishment “to elevate the standards for office holders in the state, even if that means for him personally doing things that cost him money.”

Senators can and should explore Perdue’s ethics. Equally, if not more, important are the policy issues ahead. The Agriculture Department performs two main roles: feeding 44 million people at a cost of roughly $70 billion in fiscal 2016, via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and distributing billions to American agribusiness via various outmoded subsidy programs. (Perdue himself was a recipient of a quarter-million dollars of this largesse prior to his governorship, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group.) Needless to say, we regard the department’s support for the poor as far more important than its support for agribusiness, which should long ago have been required to fend for itself in the free market. Yet it is SNAP that has drawn the ire of Republican budget-cutters on Capitol Hill — even though SNAP spending has cost less than projected since the 2014 farm bill, while spending on commodity support programs has run nearly $14 billion over what was originally projected.

Perdue should not be allowed through the confirmation process without explaining his record in Georgia. We would also like to hear him justify the continuing expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars each year to help mostly well-off agribusiness owners — though we admit we don’t see how he can.

Editorial by The Washington Post


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