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House Motor Vehicles chair Tom Rice: $25K mystery expenses
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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:
Thomas Robert Rice (R-Norcross)
District 95 (Gwinnett and Fulton counties)
Rep. Tom Rice’s campaign has reimbursed him for more than $25,000 in campaign expenses since late 2005, and his disclosures give virtually no clue how that money was spent.
The campaign paid Rice $22,082 for “reimbursement” or “reimbursement for expenses” in that period, disclosures show. Another $3,296 of reimbursements to Rice in 2006 and 2008 specified expenses such as mailing, mileage or campaign donations.
None of these reported expenditures identified the end recipients.
State law requires candidates to disclose the purpose and recipient of every campaign expense of more than $100. Rules of the state ethics commission take it a step further for reimbursements, requiring the name and address of each end recipient and the amount they were paid. The rules also require a description of the goods or services provided “with sufficient detail to identify it as a lawfully authorized use of campaign funds.”
The rule has rarely been enforced. A review of investigations by the state ethics commission since 2001 shows just a handful of consent orders concerning reimbursements, notably including a $500 fine for former Secretary of State Cathy Cox in 2009. The Cox complaint was filed by Buzz Brockway, who has since joined Rice as a member of the Gwinnett County legislative delegation.
Rice did not respond to several telephone and email messages seeking comment.
Top campaign donors to Rice reflect his long tenure as chairman of the House Motor Vehicles Committee. Five of his dozen most generous donors — truckers, driving schools, car dealers and distributors — have a keen interest in his committee’s business, contributing more than $37,000 over those years to keep him in office.
Rice received $6,632 in “scholarships” from 2006 to 2008 to attend meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, according to records posted online by the national office of Common Cause. ALEC, a national advocacy group that promotes passage of laws based on conservative and free-market principles, has no registered lobbyists in Georgia, so state law does not require disclosure of such payments.
- Elected in a runoff over John Schwab in the 1996 Republican primary.
- Re-elected 1998, again defeating Schwab, who ran as a Democrat this time.
- Re-elected four more times with no opposition.
- Re-elected 2004 (over a Democratic challenger) and 2010 (over a Republican) by margins of 3 to 1.
- Re-elected 2012 with 59 percent of the vote.
- Appropriations (2011 – present)
- Banks & Banking (1997 – 2004)
- Education (1997 – 2004)
- Motor Vehicles (1997 – present; chairman, 2005 – present)
- Rules (2005 – present)
- State Institutions & Property (2005 – 2006)
- Transportation (2009)
- Ways & Means (2005 – present)
- Former chairman, The Quality Group Inc., PC-based interactive training (retired in 2001)
- None disclosed
Other fiduciary positions
- None disclosed
- Personal residence in Norcross valued at $486,000
- Second home in Lumpkin County, appraised for tax purposes at $51,000. The property is in the name of Rice’s wife, Frances, and another family member.
- None disclosed. In an interview, Rice said he has investments in “mutual funds and stuff like that,” but that he is not required to disclose them. State law exempts “the names of individual stocks and bonds in mutual funds” from disclosure, but not the names of the funds themselves if the investment is worth more than $5,000.
Payments from state agencies
- In 2001, Rice reported that the state Department of Technical and Adult Education had paid his business, The Quality Group, $226,000 the year before. The disclosure said the contract was handled as a sole-source procurement, which requires that an agency determine there is no other source for the desired product or services. A sole-source contract is one of the ways that Georgia legislators and their businesses may contract with a state agency. Records show the total payment over two fiscal years was $254,670.
Donors have contributed more than $400,000 to Rice’s campaign committee since 1996. The breakdown by election cycle:
- 1996: $18,035
- 1997-98: $7,905
- 1999-2000: $20,313
- 2001-02: $32,510
- 2003-04: $37,105
- 2005-06: $54,016
- 2007-08: $31,625
- 2009-10: $91,725
- 2011-12: $63,389
- Reported cash on hand (Jan. 2013): $52,276
- $12,250 House Speaker David Ralston & other Republican legislators
- $10,000 Taggart’s Driving School & the Georgia Association of Risk Reduction and Driving Educators
- $9,950 Medical Association of Georgia
- $9,300 Georgia Optometric Association
- $8,250 MAG Mutual Insurance Co.
- $8,100 Georgia Motor Trucking Association & its lobbyist Ed Crowell
- $8,029 Committee of Automobile Retail Dealers of Georgia and members
- $6,200 Georgia Independent Automobile Dealers Association
- $4,950 Georgia Association of Realtors
- $4,887 JM Family Enterprises, Toyota and Lexus dealer
- $4,500 Ernest Telecommunications Inc. & CEO Joe Ernest
- $4,500 State Farm Insurance Co.
- $4,500 Associated General Contractors of Georgia
- $4,400 Georgia Bankers Association
- $4,330 United Parcel Service
- $4,050 Georgia Society of Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASC / SURGPAC)
- $3,900 Community Bankers Association of Georgia
- $3,850 Georgia Credit Union League
- $3,700 Georgia Dental Association
- $3,600 Georgia Hospital Association
Campaign to campaign
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. Rice’s committee made these political donations:
- 1998: $0
- 1999-2000: $3,700
- 2001-02: $17,200
- 2003-04: $8,550
- 2005-06: $40,800
- 2007-08: $18,320
- 2009-10: $40,850
- 2011-12: $13,863
Lobbyists have reported paying for meals and other gifts for Rice valued at more than $10,000 since 2006. The big spender: Georgia Auto Dealers Association ($5,670). BFF lobbyist: the auto dealers’ Bill Morie ($5,670).
- 2006: $1,580
- 2007: $2,014
- 2008: $1,879
- 2009: $1,671
- 2010: $850
- 2011: $871
- 2012: $1,672
- 2013: $44 through Feb. 28
When the Legislature is out of session, members may collect $173 per diem, plus mileage, for attending a committee meeting or conducting 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:
- 2001: $1,948 (14 days)
- 2002: $556 (4 days)
- 2003: $3,480 (25 days)
- 2004: $2,054 (15 days)
- 2005: $3,999 (27 days)
- 2006: $4,427 (29 days)
- 2007: $5,562 (22 days)
- 2008: $4,669 (24 days)
- 2009: $4,095 (21 days)
- 2010: $2,702 (14 days)
- 2011: $3,654 (19 days)
- 2012: $3,112 (16 days)
- 2013: $782 (4 days through April 25)
Updated April 25, 2013