Did David Perdue’s Business Benefit From Votes He Took On Georgia Ports Authority?

It certainly seems that way. David Perdue has billed himself as an “outsider” who will bring needed change to Washington DC.

However, if the facts that have surfaced are correct, it will show Perdue engaged in the very kind of cronyism he purports to deplore. According to new documents obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Perdue may have benefitted from his brief tenure as a member of the board of the Georgia Ports Authority. It was Perdue’s cousin, former Republican Governor Sonny Perdue, who gave David the appointment. The AJC writes:

Records obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request paint an even more complicated portrait, showing that a trucking company purchased by both Perdues hauled cargo at the port while David was on the board making important decisions about the port’s operation.

The Perdue campaign said the conduct was above board and contracts for the trucking work were not with the port, but with the companies and shippers moving the goods.

“There is no conflict. They did not do business with the port,” Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey said.

But while on the board, Perdue took votes on tens of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure improvements designed to streamline and improve transportation at the busy gateway. They included $1.5 million to pave one terminal and $77 million for ship-to-shore cranes.

“In general, it’s something I would call a conflict of interest,” William Perry, head of Common Cause Georgia said. “His business is benefiting from votes he takes on the board.”

Officials serving on public boards in Georgia are required to file affidavits attesting that they have not taken any votes which affected their private financial or business interests. Perdue failed to file the required ethics disclosures while on the ports board.

When the AJC inquired about the issue in May, his campaign called it an oversight and filed the forms later that month. Each said that he had not engaged in any matters on the board that affected his business or personal worth.

But is that true?

In December 2012, Perdue Partners acquired Benton Express, a family-owned company that began in Atlanta in the 1930s delivering movie reels to cinemas. The infusion of cash from Perdue Partners allowed the trucking company to replace an aging fleet of trucks. It now has 300 trucks and 20 terminals scattered around the Southeast.

In February 2013, records show, the newly-renamed Benton Global began hauling cargo directly from the port. Many of the clients are companies from China, where Sonny Perdue had contacts. Prior to 2013, Benton had contracted with Horizon Trucking to haul goods from the port to one of the company’s terminals, Green said.

It would seem to be me that matters he engaged in could have benefitted his business and of course his personal worth. We don’t know exactly what the situation is and perhaps it was all above board. But all anybody is getting are cryptic statements from Perdue’s campaign staff.

In addition, Perdue may have told a tall tale about his business:

The trips also cloud another claim of Perdues on the campaign trail: that he is an exporter. At a campaign event in February, Perdue labeled himself “the co-founder of a small business here in Georgia.”

“We focus on exporting American products to emerging markets around the world. We bought a trucking company last year,” Perdue said.

But the records show that Benton hauled goods into Georgia, largely from Chinese and Indian companies. That’s politically less popular than exporting American goods abroad.

The Perdue camp argues that the movement of goods from the port doesn’t qualify as importing. Benton doesn’t own and sell the goods, Dickey argued, so the company is not an importer or exporter.

“It’s logistical support,” [Derrick] Dickey, the Perdue spokesman, said. “It’s not the same thing.”

As somebody with over 10 years of supply chain and logistics experience, Dickey is technically correct. All Perdue’s company was doing as acting as a third party, shipping from the freight from the port to various warehouses or terminals.

But this raises the question: Why make the statement at all about being an exporter? 

And more importantly, did Perdue file false affidavits during his time serving on the Georgia Ports Authority? 

These are lingering questions than David Perdue should answer.