Politics

Agriculture Nominee Moves Closer to Confirmation Hearing

OGE releases Sonny Perdue’s ethics agreement and financial disclosures

Sonny Perdue served two terms as governor of Georgia. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images file photo)

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue agreed to extricate himself from a web of interests and restructure two family trusts to remove himself and his wife from active involvement if he wins confirmation as Agriculture secretary, according his disclosure documents at the Office of Government Ethics.

The release of Perdue’s financial disclosure and ethics agreement sets the stage for the Senate Agriculture Committee to schedule a confirmation hearing. The committee said last Friday it had received Perdue’s long awaited official nomination papers, nearly two months after President Donald Trump announced he planned to nominate him. It’s unclear if Perdue has completed a committee questionnaire that is typically part of the confirmation process. 

Perdue, 70, appears to have the support of major agriculture and agribusiness groups, whose leaders say they want someone familiar with commercial agriculture and government agencies to lead the Agriculture Department. Their support does not appear to have weakened despite several stories by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution delving into Perdue’s business dealings while governor. The New York Times weighed in with a March 8 story citing a $100,000 break in state capital gains tax Perdue received in legislation worked on by a state lawmaker who also served as his personal attorney.

A spokeswoman for Perdue told the Times that Perdue had been the target of criticism by political opponents because in 2003 he became the first Republican governor elected in Georgia in more than 100 years. He served two terms, leaving office in 2011. Thirteen ethics complaints were filed against him with the state ethics commission during his governorship, according to the Times story. The commission ruled twice that he had violated Georgia ethics rules.

Perdue pledged that among the steps he will take “to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest,” he will distance himself from the trusts that hold stock in his businesses. If confirmed, he agreed to step down as a member of an industry trade group, the National Grain and Feed Association; as manager of Perdue Management Holdings LLC; as a board member of Perdue Business Holdings; as a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Governor’s Council; and as board secretary of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

Perdue also agreed to end the Perdue Family Revocable Management Trust within 90 days of winning Senate approval and transfer all of its voting stock in his Perdue Business Holdings into an irrevocable arrangement known as the New Family Management Trust. Neither he nor wife Mary would serve as trustees of the new entity, according to the ethics agreement Perdue signed. The Perdues are currently co-trustees and the sole beneficiaries of the management trust.

Within that same time period, a second existing trust, the Perdue Family Wealth Preservation Trust, would move all its nonvoting stock in Perdue Business Holdings to the New Wealth Preservation Trust. The document outlining the operations of the New Wealth Preservation Trust “will expressly prohibit” its appointment committee from directing trust assets to Perdue or his spouse. Mary Perdue is currently trustee and a beneficiary of the wealth preservation trust.

A $500,000 to $1 million promissory note that he holds from his grain merchandising company, AGrowStar LLC, that is part of Perdue Business Holdings, and a $1 million to $5 million promissory note from the Perdue Family Wealth Preservation Trust will transfer to the New Wealth Preservation Trust. In his financial disclosure, Perdue valued AGrowStar between $5 million to $25 million. He reported $15,326 income from the company.

He reported his single largest source of income, $598,591, from the trucking company, Perdue Inc. The company is owned by Perdue Business Holdings. He also received $30,000 in payment from the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center’s Governor’s Council. In July 2016, he received a $10,000 honorarium from the center and in February 2016, a $300 honorarium from the Poplar Springs North Baptist Church.

Under his ethics agreement, Perdue pledged not to personally participate in a substantial way on any matter that would affect AGrowStar or the trust’s payments on the notes unless he receives a written ethics waiver.

Perdue declared in his ethics agreement that Perdue Properties LLC and Perdue Real Estate Holdings LLLP, of which he is the sole owner, are dormant, have no assets and generate no income.

He reported liabilities in the form of a 2016 personal loan from Citizens Bank of the South of $15,000 to $50,000; 2013 loans from CB&T of combined value of $1 million to $2 million; and a 2016 loan from Morris Bank of $250,000 to $500,000.

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