(The District Sentinel) – Amid a fledgling primary campaign, rural Iowa state lawmaker Joni Ernst crafted a quirky hardscrabble persona that propelled her to both the forefront of the race and, eventually, the United States Senate. In a 30-second spot that gained attention for its employment of hog castration imagery, Sen. Ernst (R-Iowa) claimed that her farmer parents “taught us to live within our means” and said that “it’s time to force Washington to do the same.” The Washington Post said the ad “transformed” the race and was “a vivid reminder of the enduring power of a single image”–one that has endured. On the day Ernst was sworn in, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) gave her a mounted pair of porcine testicle clippers with a plaque immortalizing her “Make ‘Em Squeal, Joni!” slogan.
The truth about her family’s farm roots and living within one’s means, however, is more complex. Relatives of Ernst (née: Culver), based in Red Oak, Iowa (population: 5,568) have received over $460,000 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. Ernst’s father, Richard Culver, was given $14,705 in conservation payments and $23,690 in commodity subsidies by the federal government–with all but twelve dollars allocated for corn support. Richard’s brother, Dallas Culver, benefited from $367,141 in federal agricultural aid, with over $250,000 geared toward corn subsidies. And the brothers’ late grandfather Harold Culver received $57,479 from Washington—again, mostly corn subsidies—between 1995 and 2001. He passed away in January 2003.
The Sentinel cross-referenced the Environmental Working Group farm subsidy database with open source information to verify the Culvers’ interest in the Department of Agriculture’s crop support program.