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Rep. Jay Roberts: State loans nixed
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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:
James Hugh Roberts Jr. (R-Ocilla)
HD155 (Tift, Irwin, Ben Hill, Coffee and Turner counties)
OverviewRep. Jay Roberts says he played no role in managing his father’s Fitzgerald-based modular-home business. But the relationship was enough to scuttle a 2008 request for $1 million in state loans to help it expand.
The business — JVH&J International LLC, initially based in Pearson, Ga. — manufactured and sold small “park model” trailers under the name Patriot Industries and modular homes as Georgia Modular Systems. In 2007, local development officials enticed the company to a larger facility 45 miles away in Fitzgerald and sought loans from the state’s Employment Incentive Program and the OneGeorgia Authority to finance acquisition of the land and buildings. A pre-application for the loan said the project would employ 135 people.
Roberts said he attended only one meeting with economic development officials and his father about the request for state aid.
“I walked in and said, ‘Let me fully disclose, that’s my dad,” he said. “If the project is worth funding and it meets the criteria, then fund it. If it doesn’t meet the criteria, then don’t fund it. … Don’t do any special favors. I want it to stand on its own.”
Then, Roberts said, he left the meeting.
Lawyers for the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill Development Authority downplayed the notion that the younger Roberts would have a conflict of interest. He owned no interest in the company, they said, and had nothing to do with its affairs. Federal regulations, though, bar the use of Community Development Block Grants to benefit the immediate family of an elected state official unless a conflict-of-interest waiver is granted.
State officials asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker’s office whether the loan would violate state law, a necessary step before asking the feds for that waiver. Department of Community Affairs policy calls for making “every effort” to seek waivers as long as the potential conflict has been disclosed publicly, as was done in this case. The request for that opinion was pending when the applicants, perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, withdrew the request.
Roberts stood to benefit if JVH&J’s expansion plans had been successful. “If it took off and it made money,” he said, “I would have gotten part ownership in the company.”
Roberts listed himself as a manager of JVH&J on financial disclosures for 2005 through 2007, but he said he did so only as a precaution in case the business grew and he took on those duties. “I didn’t want anybody coming back and saying I didn’t list it,” he said.
Managers at JVH&J would have earned salaries ranging from $78,000 to $185,000 a year once the plant reached full production, according to documents filed with DCA.
Roberts, when he chaired the House Republican Caucus,introduced a 2009 bill that would have benefited the modular-home industry by preventing local governments from restricting modular homes in their jurisdictions. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time that JVH&J didn’t sell many homes in Georgia. “This won’t benefit me at all,” he told the AJC.
DCA’s files show that a North Georgia company in 2007 had announced its intent to use JVH&J as the main supplier for 310 units in planned projects. However, Roberts said in an interview, “That never came to fruition. … They never bought anything from us.” Subsequent amendments blunted the impact of the bill to the point that an industry spokesman described it as “worthless.”
JVH&J, without the state loans or the 310-unit order, struggled after the housing bubble burst in 2008, eventually losing the Fitzgerald property in 2010.
Roberts, the House transportation chairman, 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 they could be worth much more. A year after the upgrades were disclosed, the General Assembly granted Delta a $60 million tax break on jet fuel.
- Elected to the House in 2002, unseating incumbent Newt Hudson, a Democrat, by a 3 percent margin.
- Re-elected with 58.5% of the vote in 2004.
- Re-elected four times since then without opposition.
- Chair, House Republican Caucus, 2007 – 2009
- Agriculture & Consumer Affairs (2003 – present)
- Appropriations (2005 – present)
- Children & Youth (2003 – 2004)
- Economic Development & Tourism (2005 – 2006)
- Ethics (2005 – 2009)
- Rules (2007 – present)
- State Planning & Community Affairs (2003 – 2004)
- Transportation (chair, 2010 – present)
- Ways & Means (2005 – present)
Business ownership interests
- Vice president, NHF Inc.
- Partner, Roberts and Son Farms
- Vice president, Triple R Farms Inc.
- Board member, Irwin County Farm Bureau
- No others disclosed
Real estate holdings
- Irwin County cropland, 441 acres valued at $1.03 million
- Berrien County farmland and timber, 541 acres
- Personal residence on 3-acre lot in Irwin County, valued at $190,000
Payments from government agencies
Roberts and his father have received $1.18 million in federal crop subsidies, primarily for cotton, since 1995.
Donors have given Roberts’ campaign committee more than $614,000 since 2002. The breakdown by election cycle:
- 2002: $56,707
- 2003-04: $145,481
- 2005-06: $80,102
- 2007-08: $120,500
- 2009-10: $108,563
- 2011-12: $88,520
- 2013: $14,850
- Reported cash on hand (July 2013): $15,530
- $28,800 Georgia Highway Contractors Association PAC and its donors
- $24,500 Former House Speaker Glenn Richardson & other Republican legislators
- $11,500 Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals
- $8,750 Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia and CBS Outdoor, billboards
- $8,550 Georgia Association of Realtors
- $8,200 Georgia Oilmen’s Association
- $8,000 Philip Morris USA and its parent company, Altria
- $7,950 former Rep. A.B.C. “Brad” Dorminy Jr. and family
- $7,500 Georgia Chiropractic Association
- $7,500 Medical Association of Georgia
- $6,950 Georgia Bankers Association
- $6,850 Troutman Sanders LLP
- $6,500 Georgia Apartment Association
- $6,000 Donald Leebern Jr. & Donald Leebern III, beverage distributors
- $5,500 Home Builders Association of Georgia
- $5,500 United Parcel Service
- $5,450 Georgia Dental Association
- $5,250 Georgia Credit Union League
- $5,000 Cancer Treatment Centers of America
- $4,800 Georgia Pharmacy Association
- Roberts’ campaign has paid $132,140 to Dave Simons, a Savannah-based political consultant and fund-raiser who doubled as a lobbyist for TitleMax and other clients from 2006 to 2010. Simons discontinued his lobbying sideline after I wrote about it for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2010.
- Roberts’ campaign paid him $$10,915 in expense reimbursements without identifying the end recipient, as required by state campaign finance rules.
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. Roberts’ committee made these political donations:
- 2002: $0
- 2003-04: $9,750
- 2005-06: $51,100
- 2007-08: $69,100
- 2009-10: $35,489
- 2011-12: $16,350
Lobbyists have reported paying for meals and other gifts for Roberts valued at more than $28,000 since 2006. The big spenders: Georgia Chamber of Commerce ($2,223), Georgia Power Co. ($2,167), Georgia Automobile Dealers Association ($1,866), Thomas & Associates ($1,721). BFF lobbyists: Bill Morie ($1,758), William Woodall ($1,741), Jerry Usry ($1,696).
- 2006: $2,342
- 2007: $4,607
- 2008: $3,479
- 2009: $5,946
- 2010: $2,747
- 2011: $4,288
- 2012: $4,567
- 2013: $767 through May 31
Committee days & travel expenses
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. 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:
- 2003: $3,471 (19 days)
- 2004: $3,473 (19 days)
- 2005: $10,254 (51 days) #14 in House
- 2006: $8,948 (35 days)
- 2007: $15,108 (52 days)
- 2008: $11,501 (41 days)
- 2009: $14,081 (53 days) #11 in House
- 2010: $17,832 (65 days) #4 in House
- 2011: $14,410 (56 days) #7 in House
- 2012: $10,296 (45 days) #5 in House
- 2013: $14,087 (54 days) #7 in House
- 2014: $17,971 (68 days) #2 in House
Posted April 23, 2013; updated Jan. 26, 2015