register for email updates
More questions as Real PAC files delinquent tax forms
Atlanta Unfiltered needs your financial support to continue its reporting and analysis of money in Georgia politics — a topic rarely explored by other news outlets. To help us produce more articles like this one, use the Donate button on this page. Sponsorships are also available.
Sept. 26, 2013 — Real PAC, a political committee with close ties to Gov. Nathan Deal, has filed its first tax forms with the IRS, one of which was more than a year overdue. The filings raise new questions about the timing of large gifts from business interests seeking state contracts or legislation.
Donors have given Real PAC more than $900,000, much of it in checks for up to $50,000, since Deal’s associates founded it in 2011. The PAC did not report most of the donations until recently, after Atlanta Unfiltered published its first article on the undisclosed transactions.
Real PAC told the IRS last month that it collected its $726,860 at fund-raising events in August and October 2012, described as “AUG ’12–FL RNC” and “OCT ’12–SKEET.” Real PAC hosted a luncheon at the Republican National Convention in Tampa where Deal posed for photos with convention delegates; for a time, Real PAC posted the photos on its website.
But in financial disclosures filed recently with the state ethics commission, the PAC reported receiving $85,000 in donations during the first six months of 2012. Another $162,500 came in by mid-August, 10 days before the GOP convened in Tampa, including $50,000 contributions from Anheuser Busch, TitleMax and WellCare of Georgia.
The timing of some donations — and whether they came in at political fund-raisers or in other circumstances — is of interest:
- WellCare reported making its donation on Aug. 9, the same day that state Medicaid administrators announced they would extend the company’s $1 billion-a-year contract for two years rather than rebid it. (The AJC reported the decision had been made “well before” that date. Atlanta Unfiltered will be reporting soon on that decision.)
- A $50,000 donation from the Georgia Health Care Association, representing the state’s nursing homes, was dated Dec. 11. That’s the same date that the association’s president, Jon Howell, reported paying $73.45 for dinner for Deal. At the time, the nursing homes were seeking a 10 percent hike in a bed tax that would allow them to draw down more federal Medicaid funds.
Real PAC’s other big donors include BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia, which later won the health benefits contracts for state employees and retirees; United Health Group, which lost that contract; Georgia Crown Distributing Co., shortly after its chairman, Donald Leebern Jr., was reappointed to the state Board of Regents; and AT&T, which was pushing a bill to restrict rural governments’ powers to create broadband networks.
Discrepancies in fund-raising commissions paid to Southern Magnolia LLC, co-founded by the governor’s daughter-in-law, Denise Deal, also suggest that some donations came in outside the August and October events.
Real PAC’s 2011 tax filing shows it paid Southern Magnolia $16,403, about 10.4 percent of the $157,300 that it said it raised at an event at the Georgia Aquarium. That’s within the range of commissions that political fund-raisers typically charge.
In 2012, though, the PAC said it paid Southern Magnolia just 3.3 percent of the amount reportedly raised at the August and October fund-raisers.
PAC treasurer Rick Thompson, who provided the IRS filings to Atlanta Unfiltered in an email, was not immediately available for comment.
Ken Cronan, Deal’s partner in a Gainesville salvage yard, and Jim Walters, a businessman and longtime friend of the governor’s, founded Real PAC in May 2011 “to create a job friendly environment, better our children’s education and protect our conservative values,” according to one of the IRS forms. Thompson has insisted the PAC has operated independently of Deal’s campaign for re-election in 2014.
The filings for 2011 and 2012 mark Real PAC’s first compliance with federal tax law regarding so-called 527 political organizations. Under the federal tax code, 527s and other tax-exempt groups with at least $25,000 of annual income must file a Form 990 to show how they’ve handled the money.
The forms were filed Aug. 15, about three months after Atlanta Unfiltered first asked Real PAC to provide them. Real PAC filed financial disclosures for 2012 and 2013 about two weeks later with the state ethics commission.
Thompson said previously that Real PAC didn’t have to file financial disclosures with the state because of an exemption for PACs making less than $25,000 in political donations in a single year.
Nationally recognized experts on federal campaign finance law, though, told Atlanta Unfiltered that “527” political organizations must file regular disclosures with either state or federal authorities.
“You’ve got to disclose to somebody,” said Professor Ellen P. Aprill of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.