Sam Donaldson Gets Farm Subsidies

WASHINGTON - ABC newsman Sam Donaldson, who owns a sheep ranch in New Mexico, was criticized yesterday by New York's Republican senator for receiving thousands of dollars in federal farm subsidies.

Donaldson said he dislikes the subsidy system but it's part of staying competitive in the sheep business.

In a Senate speech, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato read from a Wall Street Journal article published Thursday that Donaldson was the third-largest recipient of wool and mohair payments in Lincoln County, N.M.

Over the last two years, $97,000 in subsidy checks have gone to Donaldson's address in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, the story said. And, under an agricultural conservation cost-sharing program, Donaldson also got $3,500 earlier to defray livestock-watering costs.

"Now there are plenty of other examples of absentee landlords receiving these farm subsidies, but it is particularly glaring that millionaire Sam Donaldson is getting this taxpayers' money," said D'Amato. "Sam Donaldson, give that money back."

Donaldson, in a telephone interview, said he has talked frequently on television about his farm. He was raised on it, has been adding to it over the years and plans to retire to it, he said.

"Everyone knows I take subsidies," said Donaldson, adding that it's necessary because the subsidies are built into the price of sheep: "The only way to break even is to accept subsidies as well as what you get in the open market."

The Agriculture Department began providing wool and mohair subsidies in 1954 to make sure the military had enough material for uniforms. Congress voted in 1993 to phase out the program over two years.

"I have argued against subsidies for years," said Donaldson. "The mohair program has been killed, and I am delighted."