ATLANTA - Gov.-elect Nathan Deal has named a political supporter to oversee many of his assets while he's in office and has restructured more than $1 million in personal debt remaining from a failed family business venture.
The Republican's lawyer, Randy Evans, said Deal has set up a blind trust for his holdings, following through on a campaign pledge. But he isn't putting everything in it.
Deal will maintain control over his Gainesville home and Habersham County land that housed his daughter and son-in-law's sporting goods store. Both properties are up for sale to help pay off some $1.35 million in debt he incurred from backing the failed North Georgia business, Wilder Outdoors.
Deal will be sworn in Monday. His troubled finances became a flashpoint in last year's campaign after revelations that he was deeply in debt and had initially failed to disclose millions of dollars in business loans.
Jimmy Allen, a Tifton-based accountant and Deal political supporter, will serve as trustee of the governor's assets and act as his surrogate on business matters. Deal is transferring his share of Gainesville Salvage Disposal into the trust as well as his holding in several limited liability companies, Evans said.
Allen contributed $5,600 to Deal's gubernatorial bid and his wife gave $3,600. Allen also volunteered as an accountant for Deal's campaign, helping the GOP nominee amend his flawed financial disclosure form.
One watchdog group said the arrangement raises concerns.
"It would have been better to find someone neutral, rather than a supporter to appear beyond reproach," William Perry, the new executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said.
Perry also said that the land sales could be a distraction for Deal as he leads the state. And by keeping the properties out of the trust, he opens himself up to allegations of political favoritism when the sales go through.
But Washington D.C.-based attorney Brett Kappel, who has handled blind trusts for members of Congress, said the arrangements seemed fairly typical.
"It's not unusual to pick someone you know - a supporter- as the trustee," Kappel said. "Could it raise eyebrows with the public? Sure. But it's not unusual."
Evans said Deal was setting a high ethical bar.
"He will have no control over what goes in there," Evans said.
And Evans said placing the land Deal has on the market into a trust would have been too complicated.
"It didn't make sense of they were going to be immediately sold to go through the process of transferring and selling them," Evans said.
Deal is also keeping a Habersham County home out of the trust that he intends to use his primary residence apart from the governor's mansion.
The Wilder property has been under contract since at least October, but the sale has not gone through. The Gainesville home has also been on the market for some time for just under $1 million.
Deal had been facing a Feb. 1 deadline to repay the roughly $2.2 million left on the Wilder Outdoors loan, which he and his wife Sandra inherited after his daughter and son-in-law declared bankruptcy. When the debt was revealed during the general election campaign, Deal vowed to make good on the money he owed.
The Deals have so far paid off about $850,000, mainly through liquidating all their retirement accounts, Allen said.
South Carolina Bank and Trust restructured the remaining $1.35 million on the loan, pushing back the maturity date for about three years, Allen said. The Deals will make an annual payment but Allen could not say what that was. He could also not provide the interest rate.
In addition to the $1.35 million in Wilder debt, Deal and his wife listed two mortgages worth $810,000 on their financial disclosure. Additionally, Gainesville Salvage Disposal owes about $2 million.
As governor, he will draw a salary of about $140,000. He's set to earn federal pension of about $52,000 from his 18 years in Congress. The Deals also receive about $48,000 a year in Social Security, records show.
Deal had pledged during his campaign for governor to place his assets in a blind trust. The man he's replacing - Gov. Sonny Perdue - refused to do so and has faced criticism for conducting his business and making land transactions while in office. But previous governors in Georgia - like Zell Miller and Roy Barnes - created blind trusts to avoid conflicts while in office.