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Sen. John Wilkinson (SD 50)
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John Knox Wilkinson (R-Toccoa)
District 50 (Habersham, Rabun, Towns, Stephens, Banks, Franklin, Hall & Jackson counties)
The 2011 special election won by John Wilkinson became a proxy battle between foes and allies of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who hoped to secure enough GOP votes in the Senate to restore the powers he’d lost a year earlier, as Peach Pundit reported at the time. The dispute was fueled by a nasty anonymous mailer accusing Wilkinson of being — gasp! — a Democrat.
A second, independent mailer — this one supporting Wilkinson — also made the rounds in the week before the runoff election. Georgians for Conservative Leadership, which paid for the mailer, was funded primarily with $10,000 from liquor distributor Donald Leebern Jr. and his son, $5,000 from a Toccoa-based nursing home chain and $5,000 from Georgia nursing homes’ trade association.
Peach Pundit quoted Wilkinson as saying the attack mailers went out after he declined to side with senators who had taken some of Cagle’s powers for themselves:
“While he didn’t name specific senators, Wilkinson says the situation might have been the other way round if he had made a different choice early on. ‘They [Senate leaders] approached me; I was not willing to commit to them, to walk in lockstep with them. They told me, well in that case, I would have a formidable well-financed opponent running against me and I did the very next day. I wouldn’t make that commitment to Casey Cagle either. He didn’t ask but I wouldn’t have given him such a commitment even if he had. My only commitment will be to the constituents of the 50th district.'”
Wilkinson’s latest personal financial disclosure failed to note that he is chair of the Georgia Republican Senatorial Committee Inc., the political fund of the Senate Republican Caucus. It’s raised $188,000 since he became chairman in 2015. Top donors in that period were the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association ($20,000), MGM Resorts International ($15,000), and the Georgia Apartment Association, Georgia Auto Dealers Association and Georgia Power Co. ($10,000 each).
- Wilkinson considered a 2010 bid for agriculture commissioner but dropped out after suffering a heart attack in June 2009.
- Won a Senate seat in a December 2011 special election runoff, defeating ex-Rep. Rick Austin of Demorest.
- Re-elected in 2012 and 2014 with no opposition.
- Won his 2016 Republican primary, 70-30%.
- Chosen as secretary of the Senate Republican Caucus in November 2014.
- Agriculture & Consumer Affairs (2011 – present; chair, 2013 – present)
- Appropriations (2013 – present)
- Education and Youth (2012 – present)
- Natural Resources & Environment (2015 – present)
- Rules (ex-officio, 2015 – present)
- Economic Development (2012)
- Government Oversight (2012 – 2014)
- Health & Human Services (2012)
- Retired in 2009 after 26 years with the state Department of Education, first as executive secretary of the Future Farmers of America Association and later as director of agricultural education.
Business ownership interests
- None disclosed.
Other fiduciary positions
- UNDISCLOSED: Chairman, Georgia Republican Senatorial Committee, the political fund of the Senate Republican Caucus.
Real estate holdings
- Personal residence on two acres in Toccoa valued at $228,000.
- Single-family home and five acres in Stephens County, co-owned with his brother Mark Wilkinson, valued at $50,000.
- Three acres of unimproved residential property in Stephens County valued at $12,000.
- Twenty-five acres of farmland in Stephens County valued at $82,000.
- Fifteen acres of Stephens County timberland valued at $49,000.
- One-quarter interest in 115 acres of timber in Franklin County valued at $304,000.
- None disclosed.
Payments from state agencies
- None disclosed.
Friends and Family
- The senator’s late father, Warren Wilkinson, served as Stephens County school superintendent for 12 years and was chairman of the county’s hospital authority.
- Then-Rep. Michael Harden was a paid staffer for Wilkinson’s brief run for agriculture commissioner in 2009. Harden later became Georgia state director of Americans for Prosperity.
Wilkinson has raised more than $318,000 in political donations. The breakdown by election cycle:
- 2009: $7,279
- 2011 special election: $62,360
- 2012: $29,750
- 2013-14: $55,150
- 2015-16: $163,987
- Reported cash on hand (Jan. 2017): $78,929
- $21,400 Sen. Jack Hill & other Republican legislators
- $18,629 Phillips & Associates, Toccoa, Ga., security business
- $8,000 Georgia Trial Lawyers Association & leadership
- $6,108 Hall Booth Smith P.C., law & lobbying firm
- $6,000 Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA
- $5,850 Georgia Optometric Association
- $4,950 Georgia Association of Realtors
- $4,000 Coca-Cola & the Georgia Beverage Association
- $4,000 Georgia Poultry Federation
- $3,550 Georgia Veterinary Medical Association
- Wilkinson has paid Southern Magnolia Capital, a consulting firm started by Gov. Nathan Deal’s daughter-in-law, $3,624 for fund-raising.
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. Wilkinson’s committee made these political donations:
- 2012: $1,700
- 2013-14: $19,650
- 2015-16: $6,750
Lobbyists have reported paying for meals and other gifts for Wilkinson valued at more than $13,000 since 2012. The big spender: Georgia Food Industry Association ($2,335), which hosted Wilkinson at conventions in Sandestin and Amelia Island, Fla., in 2014 and 2015; Google ($1,641), Georgia Chamber of Commerce ($1,578).
- 2012: $967
- 2013: $850
- 2014: $5,420
- 2015: $5,125
- 2016: $646 through Feb. 29
Committee days & travel expenses
When out of session, legislators may collect $173 per day plus mileage for committee meetings or other 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.
- 2012: $9,882 (36 days)
- 2013: $12,956 (47 days)
- 2014: $11,863 (42 days)
- 2015: $12,458 (46 days)
Updated Jan. 10, 2017