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Sen. Ellis Black (SD 8): Undisclosed homes, farmland
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Calvin Ellis Black (R-Valdosta)
District 8 (Lowndes, Brooks, Clinch, Cook, Echols, Lanier & Thomas counties)
At first, Ellis Black’s 2014 personal financial disclosure omitted ownership of 491 acres of farmland, including his home, that he transferred for estate-planning purposes to a limited partnership, AEB LLLP, two years earlier. He amended the disclosure to include the property in October after Atlanta Unfiltered called to ask about it. He did not, however, include partial ownership of six single-family homes that he transferred from his own name to AEB and a second entity, LMB Partners, in 2012.
Georgia law requires that candidates disclose real estate in which they have a “direct ownership interest”; a 1998 attorney general’s opinion held that a candidate also must disclose property owned by business interests if the candidate has “a legally enforceable right to use the land for his own personal enjoyment or profit.” Black said he was unfamiliar with the opinion but did not see the need to disclose the homes because they have not produced income for several years.
Black’s House campaign fund reimbursed him in March 2014 for $2,500 in political contributions — in one case, in apparent violation of state law. Black said he returned the money but, rather than reporting that fact, he amended his March 31 campaign disclosure to delete the reimbursements altogether.
Black said he made the donations to Gov. Nathan Deal, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and state Rep. Ed Lindsey’s congressional campaign, then paid himself back with money from his campaign account. State law prohibits such “indirect donations” to non-federal campaigns, a fact that Rep. Carl Rogers learned in 2008, when the State Ethics Commission fined him $500 in identical circumstances. Georgia law has no jurisdiction over donations to candidates for federal office.
Black said he didn’t know there was any question about the practice. “I was told I could,” Black said in a telephone interview. “I checked with a lawyer that I used to set up my Senate account, and I specifically asked about this.”
Black was one of 13 farmers in the Legislature who voted in 2012 to exempt purchases of agricultural equipment and supplies from sales taxes, Black told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2014 that he did not consider his vote a conflict of interest.
“I’ve been in the [legislature] 14 years and I’ve never seen anybody vote for a law for his personal benefit,” he said. “A lot of times people up there take a position that is favorable to their industry.”
- Served 1992 to 1996 on the Lowndes County Board of Education.
- Elected to the House in 2000, winning 69% of the Democratic primary vote and 59% in the general election.
- Re-elected without opposition in 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
- Re-elected in 2004 with 53.5% of the vote in the general election.
- Switched to the Republican Party in November 2010, three weeks after being re-elected as a Democrat.
- Re-elected as a Republican in 2012 with 69% in the general election.
- Elected to the Senate in 2014 with 61.5% of the general election vote after besting former Lowndes County Commissioner John Page in a GOP primary runoff.
- Faces Democratic candidate Gregory Williams in the 2016 general election.
Senate committee assignments
- Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (2015 – present)
- Appropriations (2016 – present)
- Education and Youth (2015 – present)
- Retirement (2015 – present; chair, 2017 – )
- State Institutions and Property (2015)
House committee assignments
- Agriculture (2001 – 2014)
- Appropriations (2003 – 2014)
- Defense & Veterans Affairs (2011 – 2014)
- Public Safety (2005 – 2010)
- Reapportionment (2011 – 2014)
- Retirement (2001 – 2004)
- State Planning & Community Affairs (2001)
- Ways & Means (2009 – 2014)
Business ownership interests
- Managing partner, AEB LLLP.
- Managing partner, LMB Partners.
Other fiduciary positions
- Board member, Lowndes County Farm Bureau.
- Advisory board member, Citizens Community Bank, Valdosta.
- AEB LLLP
- BCT Gin Co.
- Centera Investment Services LLC
- Colony Bankcorp Inc.
- Edward Jones Investments
- Woodmen of the World
- spouse: Equity National
- spouse: Wells Fargo Advisors
Real estate holdings
- PREVIOUSLY UNDISCLOSED: AEB LLLP owns 491 acres of farmland, valued for tax purposes at $765,000. For estate-planning purposes, Black transferred all four parcels in 2012 to AEB LLLP, losing the homestead exemption on his residence in the process.
- UNDISCLOSED: AEB LLLP also owns two homes in Valdosta, valued at $48,000 and $28,000, that Black also transferred from his own name in 2012.
- UNDISCLOSED: LMB Partners, of which Black is one-third owner, owns three residential properties with four single-family homes on them. They are valued for tax purposes at a combined $220,000.
Payments from government agencies
- Black has received $560,000 in federal crop subsidies since 1995, primarily for cotton.
Donors have given Black’s campaigns more than $526,000 since 2000. Black in 2014 also loaned his Senate campaign $100,000, of which $30,000 remains to be repaid. The breakdown by election cycle:
- 2000: $37,005
- 2001-02: $12,450
- 2003-04: $44,665
- 2005-06: $7,383
- 2007-08: $7,000
- 2009-10: $9,450
- 2011-12: $91,484
- 2013-14: $176,609 (includes $7,250 refunded to contributors from his House account and regifted to his Senate account)
- 2015-16: $54,875
- Reported cash on hand, House & Senate accounts combined (Oct. 2016): $135,360
- $58,400 Ex-Sen. Tim Golden & other Republican legislators
- $10,500 Ex-Speaker Terry Coleman & other Democratic legislators
- $13,750 Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
- $7,500 Curtis Pickels, Quitman, Ga., pharmacist & former mayor
- $7,477 David Black & other bankers at State Bank & Trust Co.
- $7,400 Georgia Dental Association
- $7,400 Georgia Association of Realtors
- $7,000 Altria / Philip Morris USA
- $6,500 William Q. Touchton Jr., Valdosta, Ga., CEO B&J Equipment Co.
- $6,400 Athens Vascular Surgery P.C.
- $6,200 Brooksco Dairy LLC, Quitman, Ga.
- $6,101 Georgia Automobile Dealers Association
- $6,000 Earl Copeland, Valdosta, Ga., owner auto repair shop
- $5,000 Associated General Contractors Georgia
- $5,000 Dr. S.W. Clark III, Waycross, Ga., ophthalmologist
- $5,000 Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia
- $5,000 Voigt’s Sheet Metal Works, Valdosta, Ga.
- $4,900 Coca-Cola & the Georgia Beverage Association
- $4,750 Superior Pine Products Co., Fargo, Ga.
- $4,650 Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals
- $5,450 BCT Gin Co., Quitman, Ga.
- $4,500 Home Builders Association of Georgia
Candidates may give campaign funds to other candidates, a practice that some say provides a legal means to circumvent contribution limits. A 2003 bill to ban such transfers altogether passed in the Senate but died in the House. Black’s committee made these donations:
- 2001-02: $1,650
- 2003-04: $250
- 2005-06: $6,400
- 2009-10: $1,000
- 2011-12: $10,940
- 2013-14: $8,350
- 2015-16: $6,950
- In 2007, Black’s campaign paid the $127 fee for his passport. Black said the payment was for the fulfillment of his office, not a personal expense, since he had been invited on a trade mission to Cuba.
- In January 2014, Black’s House campaign account reimbursed him for $559 in printing costs without specifying the end recipient.
Lobbyists have reported paying for meals and other gifts for Black valued at more than $7,300 since 2006. The big spenders:
- $699 Georgia Power Co.
- $656 Georgia Oilmen’s Association
- $411 Georgia Chamber of Commerce
- $371 Georgia Municipal Association
- $331 AT&T
- $281 Georgia Beverage Association
The American Legislative Exchange Council in 2009 also gave Black a $375 “scholarship” to defray costs of attending ALEC functions. Corporate donors that employ lobbyists in Georgia fund the scholarships, which generally are not disclosed as lobbyist gifts since ALEC itself has no lobbyists here.
Committee days & travel expenses
When out of session, legislators may collect $173 per day plus mileage for committee meetings or other official business. (Per diem was $127 until 2007.) Those living within 50 miles of the Capitol are taxed on these payments, originally intended to cover out-of-town members’ food and lodging. Black has collected more than $85,000 in per diem and travel expenses since 2001, or about $5,700 a year. The breakdown:
- 2001: $2,302 (13 days)
- 2002: $2,878 (16 days)
- 2003: $6,236 (36 days)
- 2004: $4,645 (28 days)
- 2005: $6,691 (32 days)
- 2006: $4,166 (20 days)
- 2007: $9,938 (37 days)
- 2008: $6,031 (22 days)
- 2009: $10,143 (36 days)
- 2010: $7,558 (26 days)
- 2011: $2,231 (10 days)
- 2012: $6,442 (22 days)
- 2013: $9,295 (29 days)
- 2014: $4,707 (13 days)
- 2015: $2,367 (7 days)
Updated Jan. 10, 2017