House Majority Leader Jon Burns (HD 159): Late to disclose companies, timberland
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Jon Guerry Burns (R-Newington)
District 159 (Bulloch, Effingham & Screven counties)
Kinder Morgan Inc. can be forgiven if it didn’t see Rep. Jon Burns standing in the way of its proposed Palmetto Pipeline.
In February 2015, when Kinder Morgan announced the $1 billion project,
Burns was still three months away from becoming House majority leader. His financial disclosures also omitted several large tracts of timberland in Effingham County and described others in vague terms, making it difficult to pinpoint their locations.
Kinder Morgan soon released detailed maps of the project. As it turned out, Burns owns an interest in five Effingham parcels comprising 456 acres that lay directly in the path of the proposed 167,000-barrel-a-day pipeline. Other family members own an additional 501 acres on the pipeline route.
During the summer of 2015, Burns did not respond to Atlanta Unfiltered’s phone and email inquiries about the omissions in his financial disclosures. In October 2015, though, Burns amended old filings to report an interest in seven more tracts comprising 1,885 acres — roughly 75 percent more than previously disclosed — in Effingham. He also acknowledged owning an interest in 40 acres in Camden County.
Opponents raised environmental objections to the project, while property owners complained that Georgia law would allow Kinder Morgan to seize their land against their will. In response, Burns and other lawmakers suggested rescinding the pipeline company’s power to condemn property through eminent domain.
Losing eminent domain powers would not block Kinder Morgan from building the pipeline, but would give an edge to Burns and other landowners in negotiating a price for use of their property.
Eventually, lawmakers voted to suspend pipeline companies’ condemnation powers so a study committee could have time to ponder the issue. A few days later, Kinder-Morgan cited passage of the bill in suspending work on the pipeline. The bill, which does not affect Georgia Power Co. or other utilities’ right to eminent domain, awaits Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.
Also in 2015, Burns amended old filings to report owning an interest in three previously undisclosed companies. Two of them — North Effingham Land Investors LLC and RVLH-Greenland LLC — sold 188 acres to the city of Richmond Hill in 2012 for $800,000. The sale occurred shortly after the city refused a request by his son Wilson Burns to remove zoning conditions affecting access to the property.
From 2009 to 2015, Burns’ campaign reported paying $29,584 in credit card bills without specifying the end recipient of the funds, as required by state law. Following our inquiries, he amended those filings in the fall of 2015 to provide those details. Campaign records show he paid the Troutman Sanders law firm $8,000 to review old disclosures.
- Elected in January 2003 to the state Board of Transportation by southeast Georgia legislators.
- Elected to the House in 2004 with 65% of the vote.
- Re-elected in 2010 with 67% and four other times with no opposition.
- Elected House majority leader in 2015 over Rep. Allen Peake.Won his 2016 Republican primary, 76-24%.
- Appropriations (2009 – present)
- Economic Development & Tourism (2013 – present)
- Game, Fish, & Parks (2005 – present; chair, 2011 – 2015)
- Rules (2015 – present)
- Transportation (2005 – present)
- Agriculture & Consumer Affairs (2005 – 2016)
- Banking (2011 – 2012)
- Higher Education (2007 – 2008)
- Special Rules (2009 – 2012; chair, 2009 – 2010)
- State Properties (2013 – 2015)
- President, B & S Feed & Supply Inc., retail agribusiness.
Business ownership interests
- B & S Feed & Farm Supply Inc.
- Partner, Burns Brothers Investments LLC (listed on his disclosure as Burns Brothers Special), timber harvesting.
- Secretary, D.G. Burns & Sons Inc., timber harvesting.
- CFO, Greenland Developers Inc., land acquisition.
- Partner, J&J Farms.
- Partner, North Effingham Co. LLC, land development.
- PREVIOUSLY UNDISCLOSED: CEO, North Effingham Land Investors LLC, land management. Dissolved by the Secretary of State in 2015 for failing to renew its registration.
- PREVIOUSLY UNDISCLOSED: Member, RVLH-Greenland LLC, formed in 2011.
- PREVIOUSLY UNDISCLOSED: Member, Savannah River Land Co. LLC.
Other fiduciary positions
- Former board member, Citizens Bank of Effingham, which state banking regulators closed in 2011 at an estimated cost of $59.1 million to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Real estate holdings
Burns’ disclosures of real estate interests do not provide enough detail to compare with local property records to determine if all of his holdings in Effingham County are included. Burns’ 2015 disclosure lists 4,140 acres of agricultural land there, while local tax records show he, individually or with his brothers, owns 4,947 acres valued at $6.3 million.
Two companies in which he owns an interest, Greenland Developers and North Effingham Land Co., own 115 acres in Effingham valued at $875,000.
Properties listed on Burns’ 2015 disclosure are:
Personal residence in Effingham County valued at $207,000.
- Ten-acre commercial parcel in Effingham valued at $290,000.
- Three parcels comprising 95 acres in Effingham County described as “development.”
- Fourteen parcels comprising 4,140 acres of timber and farmland in Effingham.
- One 22-acre residential parcel in Effingham.
- A 1.3-acre parcel in Effingham labeled “river camp.”
- Chatham: 109 acres in Chatham County, unimproved, valued at $1 million.
- Single-family home on Lake Oconee in Greene County valued at $486,000.
- 85 undeveloped residential lots in Jackson County valued at $1.2 million.
- 357 acres of timberland in Screven County valued at $490,000.
- PREVIOUSLY UNDISCLOSED: 36 acres plus seven half-acre lots in Camden County, all unimproved, valued at $92,000.
- None disclosed.
Payments from government agencies
- Since 2011, B & S Feed & Farm Supply has sold $91,536 of fish food and other items to DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. Burns disclosed the sales on Business Transaction Reports like this but not on his annual personal financial disclosures. State law is unclear on whether such transactions must be disclosed on one form, the other or both.
- Since FY 2010, B & S Feed and Farm Supply has also done more than $57,000 in business with the Effingham County Board of Education. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in January 2016 that Burns’ failure to report the payments violated the state’s disclosure law. A close reading of the law, though, shows legislators don’t have to report sales to a political subdivision of the state such as a school board.
- Burns received $396,568 in federal crop subsidies since 1995, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidies Database.
Friends and Family
- Burns’s late father, D.G. Burns, served on the Effingham County school board and Effingham County Commission and as a board member of C&S National Bank.
- Burns’ wife, Dayle, now retired, was principal of Springfield Elementary School.
Burs has raised more than $695,000 in political donations since 2004. The breakdown by election cycle:
- 2004: $27,240
- 2005-06: $37,470
- 2007-08: $38,750
- 2009-10: $69,935
- 2011-12: $51,853
- 2013-14: $34,570
- 2015-16: $436,957
- Reported cash on hand (Jan. 2017): $233,831
- $27,450 Ex-Rep. Bob Lane & other Republican legislators
- $11,750 Altria / Philip Morris USA
- $11,000 Select Management Resources LLC, title pawn lender
- $10,000 BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia / Amerigroup
- $9,250 Georgia Highway Contractors Association
- $7,450 Corrections Corporation of America, private prison operator
- $7,350 Georgia Apartment Association
- $7,000 Comcast Corp.
- $6,600 Centene Management Co. LLC, operator of Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs in Georgia
- $6,500 Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association
- $6,500 Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
- $6,450 Georgia Association of Realtors
- $6,250 Georgia Nursing Home Association
- $6,000 Outfront Media Inc. / CBS Outdoor, billboards
- $5,350 Community Bankers Association of Georgia
- $5,350 Troutman Sanders LLP & lobbyist Pete Robinson
- $5,250 Coca-Cola / Georgia Beverage Association
- $5,250 Georgia Emergency Medicine PAC
- $5,200 AT&T Georgia
- $5,051 Georgia Automobile Dealers Association
- $5,000 Georgia Bankers Association
- $5,000 Georgia Chamber of Commerce
- $5,000 Georgia Retail Association
- $5,000 Hi-Rez Studios Inc., game developer
- $5,000 Koch Industries / Georgia-Pacific
- $5,000 Tripwire Interactive LLC, game developer
- $5,000 Wine & Spirits Wholesalers 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. Burns’s campaign has made more than $102,000 in such contributions. Here’s the breakdown by election cycle:
- 2006: $19,700
- 2007-08: $10,450
- 2009-10: $17,450
- 2011-12: $15,300
- 2013-14: $25,100
- 2015-16: $14,800
Since 2006, lobbyists have reported paying more than $30,000 for meals and other gifts for Burns. The big spenders:
- $7,279 he University System of Georgia
- $1,919 Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association
- $1,536 Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia
- $1,300 GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group
- $1,195 Georgia Cable Association
- $1,141 AT&T
- $1,038 Georgia Association of Manufacturers
- $850 Southeastern Wood Producers Association
- $840 Georgia Power Co.
- $765 Georgia Chamber of Commerce
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. Burns has collected more than $51,000 in per diem and travel expenses since 2005, or about $4,650 a year.
- 2005: $1,174 (7 days)
- 2006: $1,704 (13 days)
- 2007: $6,171 (24 days)
- 2008: $1,864 (10 days)
- 2009: $3,470 (14 days)
- 2010: $4,405 (17 days)
- 2011: $7,699 (33 days)
- 2012: $4,769 (18 days)
- 2013: $5,073 (17 days)
- 2014: $5,169 (19 days)
- 2015: $9,618 (31 days)
Updated Jan. 15, 2017