MADISON (AP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde campaigns against federal farm subsidies, even though his realty firm collected nearly $8,000 from the government under a program benefiting tobacco farms in the past three years.
Hovde, a hedge fund manager who is also chief executive officer of Hovde Realty Inc., has been trying to position himself as a fiscal conservative in a four-way race for the GOP nomination. He has attacked Republican rival Mark Neumann because his solar energy businesses took about $500,000 in federal stimulus money. He has also taken a stance against farm subsidies, citing the "need to eliminate the Death Tax and fight against subsidies that benefit only million-dollar mega farms at the expense of family farms," on his campaign website.
Hovde said Thursday that he didn't know that his realty firm applied for the tobacco subsidies until The Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contacted him about it. He said his company began receiving subsidies in 2005 of about $700 a year. The farm no longer grows tobacco, he said. Hovde said he opposes the subsidy program and would not support it as a senator.
The primary is Aug. 14.
Hovde's family has been involved in real estate for three generations. His father, Don Hovde, purchased a tobacco farm in east Madison about a decade ago, shortly before he died, Hovde said. Hovde and his brother, Steve, are joint owners of the realty company. An employee of the firm under a portion of it headed by his brother made the application, Hovde said.
"Frankly, I think it's stupid," he said of the program. While he supports the goal of moving away from tobacco production and cigarette smoking, Hovde said he doesn't think the subsidy program is effective.
USAspending.gov, a website that tracks where federal money is spent, shows that between 2010 and 2012, Hovde's real estate firm was paid $7,989 under the Tobacco Transition Payment Program. Also known as the "tobacco buy-out," the program was created to help ease the transition for tobacco growers into a free market system.
The program, established under President George W. Bush in 2004, provides annual transitional payments for 10 years to eligible tobacco quota holders and producers. Payments began in 2005 and continue through 2014.
The program changed the way tobacco is produced and sold in the United States, eliminating the old quota price support program that regulated the tobacco market and had been in place for 65 years.
This isn't the first time a Republican Senate candidate's campaign position has run afoul of his business dealings or past statements.
Solar energy companies owned by Neumann, a tea party conservative and vocal critic of the stimulus, received about $500,000 under the federal program enacted by Congress to spur economic investment during a recession. Neumann argues that because the program he benefited from started as a Bush-era tax cut, it shouldn't be viewed as part of the 2009 economic stimulus law signed by President Barack Obama.
Hovde released a television ad last week attacking Neumann for taking the stimulus money.
Neumann's spokesman declined to comment.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald are also running on the Republican side. U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is the only Democrat in the race.
Thompson spokesman Brian Nemoir accused Hovde of being a "master of federal fleecing, and is seemingly well on the way to perfecting the well-practiced art of political double speak."
Fitzgerald's spokesman did not immediately return a message.
A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee blasted Hovde for taking the money.
"Hovde pocketed thousands in government farm subsidies even though he's not a farmer at all," said spokesman Matt Canter.
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