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    Sen. Burt Jones (SD 25): Were $103K in campaign loans legal?

     

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    William Burton Jones (R-Jackson)

    District 25 (Baldwin, Butts, Greene, Jasper, Morgan & Putnam counties)

     

    Sen. Burt Jones

    Sen. Burt Jones

    Burt Jones’ 2012 Senate campaign enjoyed two distinct advantages: His good name, as special teams captain of the 2002 SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs, and that of his father, a prominent businessman who’d served eight years in the Georgia House.

    The $103,500 borrowed from his father’s business also made a difference. That help, though, may not have been entirely legal.

    Georgia law places the same limits on loans to political campaigns as contributions; in 2012, the limit for a legislative candidate was $2,600 for a primary or general election. Larger sums may only be borrowed from the candidate, a spouse or dependent child, or a government-chartered or FDIC-insured lending institution.

    Jones said JP Capital & Insurance Inc., the lender to his campaign, is not chartered as a lending institution.

    “I’m paying that loan back as we speak, plus interest,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s one of those things that, that’s just the way we did it.”

    Jones confirmed in an email that his father, William B. “Bill” Jones, owns 100 percent of the company.

    The loan helped put Jones’ campaign spending roughly on par with that of then-Sen. Johnny Grant, the incumbent he unseated in the 2012 Republican primary. Jones spent about $174,000 from April through September that year, compared to Grant’s $199,000.

    In 2013, several months after he took office, Jones’ campaign borrowed $100,000 more from Meriwether Properties Inc., which he said is another of his father’s businesses. The campaign repaid the full amount to Meriwether a month later.

    Jones’ campaign paid back $9,100 in principal on the JP Capital loans in October 2012 and borrowed $5,000 more in July 2013. In 2014 and 2015, it paid $12,428 in interest on the loans. (UPDATE: The campaign paid off the remainder of the JP loans, plus about $5,500 in interest, after we published this article in 2016.)

    The terms of the loans — including collateral, interest rate and repayment schedule — are unclear. The senator did not respond to follow-up email and voicemail messages seeking more details on the loans.

    The state Campaign Finance Commission has negotiated several consent orders regarding excessive campaign loans. Notably, former Southern Co. CEO A.W. Dahlberg and several others admitting loaning excessive amounts to Robb Pitts’ 2001 Atlanta mayoral campaign. Former Kennesaw Mayor Leonard Church also admitted borrowing an excessive sum from his dental prosthetics business in 1999.


    Jones’ disclosures report that he owns a fourth-interest in 32 townhomes in Butts County but makes no mention of his interest in Brownlee Complex LLC, the company that owns them. He also has not disclosed his fiduciary role as president of JP Capital & Insurance Inc.

    “We try to do everything by the book here, so I’d have to look at that,” Jones told me when I asked about the omissions.

    Legislative website

    Campaign website

    Voting record

    Political career

    • Won a Senate seat in 2012, defeating incumbent Johnny Grant 53-47% in the Republican primary.
    • Re-elected in 2014 and 2016 with no opposition.
    • Mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2018.

    Committee assignments

    • Banking & Financial Institutions (2015 – present; chair, 2015 – 2016)
    • Higher Education (2013 – present)
    • Insurance and Labor (2013 – present; chair, 2017 – )
    • Transportation (2015 – present)
    • Regulated Industries and Utilities (2013 – 2014)
    • State Institutions and Property (2013 – 2014)

    Employment

    Business ownership interests

    • UNDISCLOSED: Brownlee Complex LLC, 25% interest

    Other fiduciary positions

    • UNDISCLOSED: President, JP Capital & Insurance Co.

    Real estate holdings

    • Personal residence in Butts County valued at $494,000.
    • Half-interest in a single-family rental property in Butts County valued at $57,522.
    • 32 acres of undeveloped land in Butts County valued at $120,300.
    • 25% interest in 32 townhomes in Butts County valued at $1.37 million.

    Other investments

    • None disclosed.

    Payments from state agencies

    • None disclosed.

    Friends and Family

    • Jones’ father, William Bailey (Bill) Jones, served from 1977 to 1984 in the Georgia House and, before that, as Butts County school superintendent. He is CEO of Jones Petroleum Co., a wholesaler and owner of groceries, convenience stores and real estate interests. Gov. Nathan Deal appointed him to the board of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority in 2013.
    • Roger T. Lane, president and chief lobbyist for the Georgia Oilmen’s Association, is a business partner of Sen. Jones as managing member of Brownlee Complex LLC. The senator said Jones Petroleum is a longtime member of the trade group, which has been among his most generous campaign donors.
    • Jones’ campaign has paid $1,047 in fund-raising commissions to The Sassafras Group, a consulting firm founded by Gov. Nathan Deal’s daughter-in-law Denise Deal.

    Campaign contributions

    Jones has raised more than $418,000 in political donations. The campaign also borrowed $108,500 from JP Capital & Insurance and $100,000 from Meriwether Properties in 2012 and 2013. Both are owned by his father. All of the loans have been paid back. The donation breakdown by election cycle:

    • 2012: $119,305
    • 2013-14: $110,708
    • 2015-16: $189,390
    • Reported cash on hand (Jan. 2017): $52,146

    Top donors

    • $34,750 Sen. David Shafer & other Republican legislators
    • $18,295 Georgia Trial Lawyers Association & leadership
    • $6,500 Georgia Oilmen’s Association
    • $6,250 BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia / Amerigroup
    • $6,000 Altria / Philip Morris USA
    • $5,700 TitleMax, title-pawn lender
    • $5,400 Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association
    • $5,000 Georgia Bankers Association
    • $5,000 Star Importers & Wholesalers Inc., Tucker, Ga.
    • $4,750 State Farm Insurance
    • $4,500 Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia
    • $4,500 Regions Financial Corp.
    • $4,500 Select Management Resources Inc., title-pawn lender
    • $4,250 AT&T
    • $4,400 Georgia Apartment Association
    • $3,750 Check into Cash of Georgia LLC
    • $3,741 Troutman Sanders LLP, lobbying firm
    • $3,500 GEICO
    • $3,500 Marathon Petroleum Co. LP
    • $3,400 Georgia Dental Association
    • $3,250 Georgia Credit Union League
    • $3,250 Georgia Optometric Association

    Campaign spending

    • Jones’ campaign paid $17,986 interest on $108,500 in loans from his father’s business, JP Capital & Insurance. The campaign also paid JP $744 for “event insurance” in October 2016.
    • In March 2015, Jones’ campaign donated $500 to the PAC of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents.
    • The campaign has reimbursed Jones, his wife and his father’s businesses $2,697 for expenses without itemizing the end recipient of the funds as required.
    • Jones was also reimbursed in 2013 for a $1,000 campaign contribution to Gov. Nathan Deal. The state ethics commission has fined other campaigns for making similar reimbursements rather than donating directly to a candidate.

    Campaign-to-campaign donations

    Candidates may give campaign funds to other candidates, a practice that some advocates believe 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. Jones’ campaigns made these donations:

    • 2013-14: $14,264
    • 2015-16: $11,250

    Lobbyist freebies

    Lobbyists have reported paying for meals and other gifts for Jones valued at more than $3,300. The big spenders:

    • $676 Georgia Bankers Association
    • $308 Georgia Chamber of Commerce
    • $258 University System of Georgia

    Committee days & travel

    When out of session, legislators may collect $173 per day plus mileage for official business. Those living within 50 miles of the Capitol are taxed on these payments, originally intended to cover out-of-town members’ food and lodging.

    • 2013: $1,264 (6 days)
    • 2014: $179 (1 day)
    • 2015: $1,613 (7 days)

    Updated Jan. 10, 2017

     

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