Dutton announced he will qualify next week for the Republican primary in the 12th congressional district currently represented by Democrat John Barrow.
Dutton will face at least three other announced candidates, including former congressional aide John Stone and Augusta businessmen Rick Allen and Eugene Yu. Stone and Allen have each run before in that district and have nearly a year-long head start on Dutton campaigning. Yu just announced last weekend that he is switching from the U.S. Senate race.
Both Allen and Yu have made sizable personal contributions to their campaigns, something Dutton appears to be unable to do to help his campaign catch up in the fundraising contest.
Dutton, the owner of General Pump and Well in Glennville and also a Republican legislator, has been the subject of at least 29 judgments against him and his company for a variety of creditors. The judgments include unpaid sales, property and withholding taxes, repeated instances of unpaid unemployment-insurance premiums for his workers and claims from banks and suppliers.
“At the age of 22, I decided to start my own well-drilling business,” he said Friday. “During the past 14 years my business -- like many small businesses -- has enjoyed success as well as financially challenging times. In spite of any difficulties the business faced, I have never walked away from a debt.”
Court records in Dutton’s home county of Tattnall show the trail of financial problems stretches from a 2003 judgment against his company from Noland Co. for $15,600 that was satisfied two years later to as recently as December, 2012 to Yellowbook Inc. for $14,700. The largest, issued Aug. 2012, is for $627,000 and remains outstanding for a debt Dutton’s company owes Heritage Bank. The state also took steps to dissolve his business twice but later granted requests to renew its incorporation.
The nature of the debts are likely to create a campaign headache as big as the financial one, partly because they started well before the Great Recession and partly because they include taxes and employee benefits, notes Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia who has written extensively about Peach State politics.
“People find that particularly objectionable. We all get these tax bills, and we all have to pay them,” Bullock said.
Certainly voters have had their own financial challenges in recent years, he said. But that won’t stop Dutton’s finances from becoming a campaign issue.
“It will enter the public discourse,” Bullock said. “His ability to handle his own money will come up in terms of his ability to handle the public money.”
Dutton, though, said his trials as a business owner prepare him for being a good congressman.
“Real world experiences like this are one of the reasons that I’m running for Congress. Too many of the career politicians in Washington don’t know what it’s like to try to meet a payroll and can’t relate to the difficult economic situation that many Georgia families and businesses have found themselves in over the last few years,” he said.