When Rep. Larry O’Neal (R-Bonaire) revealed to his his fellow House Republicans last night that the IRS cleared him in the handling of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s purchase of land in Florida, he also revealed something of perhaps greater importance: The governor himself was the subject of the audit.
O’Neal is running for House speaker and the Republican caucus will gather at the Capitol tomorrow to choose between four men seeking the post. But O’Neal’s bid has resurrected speculation over his role in both Perdue’s land deal and in legislation passed in 2005 that gave the governor a retroactive $100,000 tax break for the purchase. O’Neal, as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, sponsored the legislation, although it was a Senate amendment that made Perdue a beneficiary.
In his Tuesday letter to the GOP caucus, O’Neal said the IRS “sent a team of federal auditors to conduct a full forensic audit of every aspect of this land issue transaction. It was a multi-week, full-blown, on-site examination.”
The result, O’Neal wrote, “was that the IRS made zero adjustment to the taxes involved and exonerated me once and for all for any wrongdoing in this matter.”
That last sentence must be read carefully. Because it would be Perdue’s taxes, not O’Neal’s, that the IRS saw fit not to adjust. And while O’Neal says he was exonerated, he does not explicitly say Perdue was also fully cleared. That is, however, the implication. As O’Neal writes, the governor did not have to pay any additional taxes, which would seem to mean the IRS found nothing wrong with how the governor handled the tax implications of the Florida land purchase.
Unfortunately, nobody involved will say anything more on the matter. O’Neal has not returned repeated requests for an interview. Perdue’s top spokesmen referred reporters to O’Neal’s letter and declined further comment. And IRS spokesman Mark Green could not be reached for comment.
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