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House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal
Leaders in the public sector have plenty of public resources to promote their political views, accomplishments and experience. Often the public record holds much more: personal and campaign finance disclosures, expense reports, and business, tax and court filings. Here’s what they show:
Lawrence Edward O’Neal Jr. (R-Bonaire)
(District 146, Houston County)
Larry O’Neal would probably prefer to be remembered for anything other than a tax break seemingly engineered specifically for then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, a client of O’Neal’s law practice. Nevertheless, O’Neal is best known for authoring the 2005 bill that allowed his fellow Houston Countian to retroactively shelter capital gains by reinvesting the money in property in Florida. Perdue, who thus saved about $100,000 in taxes, said he signed the bill into law without realizing it would apply to him. IRS auditors later investigated and exonerated O’Neal, he said in a 2009 email to House Republicans. Neither Perdue nor O’Neal released IRS documents or correspondence that would back up that assertion. A 2007 ethics complaint about O’Neal’s handling of the bill went nowhere.
O’Neal went into business with another Sonny from Houston County, former state Rep. Roy “Sonny” Watson Jr., in 2001 when they formed SONLAR LLC. In 2005, Sonlar bought a 61-unit assisted-living facility at auction for $2.5 million after the previous owner defaulted on revenue bonds issued by the Houston County Development Authority. SONLAR sold the property in August 2012 for $5.1 million.
O’Neal, soon to become the House majority leader, was one of seven legislators who accepted gold or platinum medallion upgrades from Delta Air Lines in 2010. Delta listed the upgrade as a campaign contribution and valued it at $1,588, but outside observers suggested it could be worth much more. A year after the upgrades were awarded
, the General Assembly granted Delta a $60 million, two-year tax break on jet fuel.
In an interview with the Macon Telegraph, O’Neal acknowledged that former Speaker Glenn Richardson’s extramarital affair with an Atlanta Gas Light lobbyist had been “common knowledge” around the Capitol well before the speaker’s high-profile resignation in December 2009. A legislative panel had previously dismissed an ethics complaint alleging the affair, finding that it was unsubstantiated. But by late 2009, when the speaker’s ex-wife confirmed the relationship, O’Neal said the affair had become “too much of a distraction” for the Legislature to function effectively.
The American Legislative Exchange Council awarded “scholarships” totaling $6,128 to O’Neal from 2005 to 2008, records show. Corporate donors — including petroleum, pharmaceutical, utility, tobacco and health-care interests — funded the scholarships, which were meant to cover the costs of airfare and lodging to attend ALEC functions. The donations generally are not disclosed as lobbyist gifts, since ALEC does not have a registered lobbyist in Georgia.
- Ran for the House in 1996 as a Democrat but fell short with 47 percent of the vote.
- Elected to the House in a November 2001 special election with 62 percent of the vote.
- Re-elected as a Republican in 2002 and four more times since then without opposition.
- Chosen in November 2002 as one of Gov.-elect Perdue’s floor leaders in the House.
- Won the 2006 general election with 70 percent of the vote.
- Ran second to David Ralston in December 2009 in a caucus vote for speaker of the House.
- Elected House majority leader in November 2010 with the retirement of Rep. Jerry Keen.
- Appropriations (2003 – 2004)
- Banks and Banking (2002 – 2004)
- Ethics (2011 – present)
- Governmental Affairs (2005 – present)
- Journals (2002)
- Judiciary (2002 – present)
- MARTA Oversight (2009 – 2011)
- Ways & Means (chairman, 2005 – 2010)
- Attorney. Until 2011, O’Neal listed himself as a partner in the law firm of O’Neal, Long, Hall & Gurd LLP (now known as Long & Hall LLP).
Business ownership interests
- Owns 40 percent of O’Neal Long & Hall LLC (real estate ownership), the company that owns the law firm’s office building in Warner Robins.
- Owns 1.5 percent in MARGIEO LLC, real estate ownership and management. Ex-Rep. Roy “Sonny” Watson Jr. is the company’s registered agent.
- Owns 16 2/3 percent of SONLAR LLC, real estate leasing & management. Watson is the registered agent. (Prior to 2005, O’Neal reported having a 50 percent interest in SONLAR.)
Other fiduciary positions
- Board member, Warner Robins Supply Co. Inc., building supplies
- Advisory board member, CB&T Bank of Middle Georgia
Real estate holdings
- Personal residence and adjoining lot in Bonaire valued at $284,000.
- Office property at 311 Margie Drive, Warner Robins, valued at $307,000.
- About 21,000 square feet of commercial space on two acres at 230 Margie Drive, Warner Robins, valued at $1.8 million.
- About 37,000 square feet of commercial space on 6.2 acres at 1010 Kathryn Ryals Road, Warner Robins, site of the Antebellum Grove assisted living facility, valued at $2,516,700. SONLAR LLC purchased the property in 2005 for $2.5 million after the previous owner defaulted on revenue bonds issued by the Houston County Development Authority. SONLAR sold the property in August 2012 for $5.1 million.
- Total Systems Services Inc. (TSYS)
- Verizon Communications Inc.
- Numerous mutual funds
Payments from state agencies
- None disclosed.
Friends and Family
- O’Neal handled tax and other business matters for former Gov. Perdue for a number of years.
- Former Rep. Roy H. “Sonny” Watson Jr., as noted above, and O’Neal have been in several business ventures together. Both served together on the board of CB&T Bank of Middle Georgia.
- Gov. Perdue appointed O’Neal’s wife, Katheryn, to the state Child Advocate Advisory Committee in 2004. She later chaired the committee
- O’Neal’s longtime law partner, Michael J. Long, served on the state Judicial Nominating Commission during Gov. Perdue’s first term.
- Eric Blazi, a Houston County homebuilder, served as O’Neal’s paid campaign coordinator in 2006. Blazi serves on the Warner Robins Planning & Zoning Board.
- Lindsey Napier, formerly counsel in the Office of the Majority Leader under O’Neal, helped to craft the tax package passed in the 2012 legislative session. On top of her state salary, O’Neal paid Napier $6,000 from his campaign account in 2011 and 2012, primarily for work as a “tax reform consultant.” She left her state job in May 2012 to become manager of government relations and a registered lobbyist for Publix Super Markets.
Donors have contributed more than $850,000 to O’Neal’s campaigns since 1996. The breakdown by election cycle:
- 1996: $45,691
- 2001 special election: $24,900
- 2002: $7,650
- 2003-04: $40,450
- 2005-06: $218,614
- 2007-08: $118,857
- 2009-10: $172,951
- 2011-12 : $228,162
- Reported cash on hand (Jan. 2013): $40,669
- $22,800 Georgia Hospital Association and members
- $19,000 Georgia Bankers Association and members
- $17,700 Georgia Association of Realtors
- $17,320 Georgia Health Care Association and members (nursing homes)
- $13,450 Home Builders Association of Georgia
- $12,400 Philip Morris USA and parent company Altria
- $11,750 Georgia Apartment Association
- $11,500 Medical Association of Georgia
- $10,500 MAG Mutual Insurance Co.
- $10,500 Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Georgia and member Donald M. Leebern III
- $10,400 Georgia Dental Association
- $9,600 Michael & Kerri Jo Jansen, developer, Athens, Ga.
- $9,500 Georgia Pharmacy Association
- $8,900 Coca-Cola Co. and Coca-Cola Enterprises
- $8,800 United Parcel Service
- $8,500 Walmart
- $7,750 Select Management Resources Inc. & CEO Rod Aycox (title pawn lenders)
- $7,750 General Electric Co.
- $7,450 Georgia Oilmen’s Association
- $7,300 Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals
O’Neal’s campaign has paid $55,150 since mid-2009 for year-round rent and utilities for an Atlanta condominium for his use when he’s on state business. (Campaign finance rules permit this type of expense regardless of whether an out-of-town legislator is also accepting state per-diem payments for state business.) He’s spent about $5,140 in campaign funds, most of it with Alpharetta-based New Avenues, to furnish the condo.
The campaign also charged $2,425 in travel expenses to American Express in 2007 and 2008 but did not specify the end recipient of the purchases, as required by state campaign finance rules.
Campaign to campaign donations
Candidates may make political donations with campaign funds, allowing prolific fund-raisers to share their contributions with other legislators or candidates. Some advocacy groups believe such transfers should be limited to an aggregate of $10,000 per election cycle. O’Neal’s committee made these political donations:
- 2002: $4,500
- 2003-04: $25,500
- 2005-06: $79,250
- 2007-08: $75,600
- 2009-10: $77,750
- 2011-12 : $103,750
Lobbyists have reported paying for meals and other gifts for O’Neal valued at more than $63,000 since 2006. The big spenders: Georgia Automobile Dealers Association ($7,614), Georgia Power Co. ($4,616), Georgia Association of Convenience Stores ($4,282), Georgia Food Industry Association ($4,002). BFF lobbyist: the auto dealers’ Bill Morie ($7,506).
- 2006: $4,359
- 2007: $8,826
- 2008: $11,152
- 2009: $8,401
- 2010: $7,917
- 2011: $11,896
- 2012: $10,455
- 2013: $83 through March 31
Committee days & travel expenses
When the Legislature is out of session, members may collect $173 per diem, plus mileage, for committee meetings or other official business. (Per diem was $127 prior to 2007.) Lawmakers living within 50 miles of the Capitol are taxed on these payments, which were originally intended to cover out-of-town members’ food and lodging. Here’s the annual breakdown, based on the year in which the expenses were paid:
- 2002: $2,134 (11 days)
- 2003: $7,039 (46 days)
- 2004: $5,951 (40 days)
- 2005: $7,191 (41 days)
- 2006: $7,968 (39 days)
- 2007: $13,673 (54 days)
- 2008: $11,912 (46 days)
- 2009: $6,287 (29 days)
- 2011: $12,602 (58 days) #6 in House
- 2012: $14,416 (63 days) #4 in House
- 2013: $4,684 (23 days through April 25) #2 in House
Posted Dec. 7, 2012; last updated May 26, 2013