Ag pick Sonny Perdue outlines divestiture plans ahead of Senate vote


Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue plans to step down from his business holding company and restructure his family trusts in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest should the Senate confirm him to be secretary of agriculture, according to new federal ethics documents.

As part of a deal struck with the Office of Government Ethics, Perdue would resign from positions as manager of Perdue Management Holdings LLC and as a board member of Perdue Business Holdings Inc.

Such an agreement is a routine part of the confirmation process for senior executive branch nominees that began after the Watergate scandal.

Perdue, 70, is putting his assets into a blind trust in order to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest, according to an official with President Donald Trump’s transition team who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The Republican agreed to restructure the family trusts that control Perdue Business Holdings, which includes real estate and fertilizer distribution subsidiaries, so neither he nor his wife, Mary, would have say over its investments or be its beneficiaries. Perdue Business Holdings also owns 25 percent of Perdue Partners, according to the financial disclosures, which acquired a regional trucking firm in 2012 that quickly went out of business.

Perdue would also leave positions at the National Grain and Feed Association, the Georgia Agribusiness Council and the Washington-based think tank the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The paperwork was dated March 7 and posted online by the Office of Government Ethics over the weekend. It’s one of several key documents required by the Senate Agriculture Committee, the 21-member panel tasked with vetting the Cabinet pick before it schedules a confirmation hearing.

In financial disclosure documents that were filed alongside the ethics agreement, the Perdues claimed between $11.2 million and $47 million in assets. Those included real estate in Butts County and undeveloped land near Disney World that the governor had previously purchased from a developer he’d appointed to the state’s economic development board.

The paperwork also valued AGrowStar, a Perdue-owned grain shipment and storage business, between $5 million and $25 million.

The Perdues also reported up to $2.5 million in liabilities and at least $938,000 in income. Nearly $600,000 of that income was generated by the trucking company Perdue Inc.

The divestiture marks a shift for Perdue. As governor he was subject to questions about his business interests after he declined to place his assets into a blind trust and put others in charge of running his agribusiness company.

Perdue allies said the big financial moves show how seriously he is taking the nomination.

“He’s doing it with the commitment that he feels like he can add value and help this president be successful,” U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., the governor’s first cousin, said in a recent interview.

Sonny Perdue has received positive early feedback from senators of both parties and the agriculture community. That momentum was undercut by a mysterious delay in the submission of Perdue’s paperwork, which led to some anxiety among his political allies. With his documents now filed, the Senate is expected to move quickly to confirm him in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, Mike Young, the U.S. Agriculture Department’s top budget official, is in charge.


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