Eric Johnson failed to disclose $280k paid to his Savannah architecture firm

Shannon McCaffrey with the Associated Press has written the following:

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Eric Johnson did not disclose more than $280,000 in taxpayer money paid to his Savannah architecture firm at a time when he was required to do so, according to an Associated Press review of financial reports and state records.

Under state ethics law, Johnson was obligated to disclose any business with the state worth more than $20,000 since he held more than a 10 percent ownership as a managing partner of Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung — one of the largest architecture and engineering firms in the Southeast. Johnson no longer has an ownership interest in the firm.

Between 1999 and 2004, Johnson’s financial disclosure reports show the firm took in $578,953 for design work on eight state contracts, most for the state university system. At the time, Johnson was the top Republican in the state Senate.

Missing from Johnson’s reports, however, was an additional $289,375 the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission paid to the Savannah firm for plans to renovate a library on the campus of Dalton State College.

Johnson disclosed $111,188 for the work on the Dalton State College campus. A manual check of GSFIC ledger entries show the commission paid Hussey $400,563 between 1999 and 2002, according to spokeswoman Katy Pando. The Associated Press obtained the commission’s records under an open records request and compared them to Johnson’s disclosure reports.

Johnson, who chaired the state Senate Ethics Commission before stepping down in 2009 to run for governor, called the omission “inadvertent.”

“In 17 years of public service I have made every effort to be transparent,” Johnson said in an interview with the AP. “I wasn’t hiding anything.”

Johnson said he never solicited state business, but as a managing partner at the firm did have a role in ensuring the contracts were handled properly.

Johnson is one of seven Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in the July 20 primary. On the campaign trail, Johnson has emphasized his role as a champion of ethics reform at the Capitol and stressed that he’s the candidate who, as a licensed architect and businessman, has created jobs amid a bad economy.

Rick Thompson, former chairman of the Georgia Ethics Commission, said elected officials are obligated to report accurately and there should be a verification system to ensure information is complete.

“You can ask people to disclose as much as you want but unless there is a way to check it you have no way of knowing if they are giving you the whole picture,” Thompson said.

Johnson left the Savannah firm in 2004 and went to work for North Point Realty, also based in Savannah. He returned to the architecture firm in late 2009 — after leaving the state Legislature — and is now director of business development.

The firm has continued to do state business. The Department of Transportation, for instance, paid $23,000 to the firm in late 2009 and early 2010. Since Johnson no longer has an ownership stake in the company, he is not obligated to disclose the work.

Johnson said the projects were all competitively bid. But university officials said the selection process for design work, while competitive, is not based simply on a low bid but a number of factors such as the qualifications of the firm and the experience they bring to the project. Only after the most qualified applicant is selected do they discuss cost, said Sharon Brittain, assistant vice chancellor for design and construction.

“You are looking for the best firm, not necessarily the low bidder,” she said.

That troubled Bill Bozarth, head of the Georgia Chapter of Common Cause, a good government watchdog group.

“When a contract is awarded on a more subjective basis other than low bid, it naturally calls into question if favoritism is at play,” Bozarth said.

And while Johnson says he did not solicit bids for his firm, his role as a powerful state legislator was known among state officials.

An April 16, 2002, memo obtained through an open records request outlined concerns the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education had with the firm’s work on predesign for a new building at the Coosa Valley Technical College. The department’s facilities director, Tony Bruehl, suggested terminating the contract with the architect.

“The issue may be sensitive because a member of the legislature from Savannah works for Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung Architects,” Bruehl wrote. Nonetheless, days later the contract was ended.

Johnson’s disclosure reports show that in addition to the Dalton project the firm had the following state contracts:

— Savannah State University, Drew Griffith Science Laboratory, $347,112

— Georgia Tech, Skidaway Oceanography Institute, $12,315

— Georgia Ports Authority, renovations to headquarters, $19,113

— Department of Technical and Adult Ed, preliminary planning for Coosa Valley Tech College building, $35,000

— Armstrong Atlantic State University, programming for new computer center, $5,560

— Georgia Southern, master planning university book store, $47,865

— Gainesville College, preprogramming assistance, $800

Johnson said his firm could have done far more business with the state had he not been in the state Legislature. He said it precluded him from marketing their architecture and engineering services to university presidents and other state agencies in need of design work. Other companies could go to the campuses and essentially “sell” their services, he said.

“The firm missed plenty of opportunities because the managing partner couldn’t solicit,” he said.

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27 comments Add your comment

T-Bone

May 25th, 2010
4:11 pm

I’m no Johnson fan, but this report doesn’t sound particularly damning. After all, he reported over $500,000 in contracts, so it’s not as if his company’s extensive contract work with the state was a big secret. It seems he just failed to report all the contracts. Whether he had any influence on contract bids is speculation at this point, and, even if he did, some voters may not see a major ethical issue there.

Jebbery

May 25th, 2010
4:15 pm

Gosh…I think the bigger concern here is that Johnson owned a firm with someone named “Gay.” I mean, that’s an affront to Christianity and the institution of marriage, right?

Red

May 25th, 2010
4:20 pm

Puhleaze…he personally didn’t influence? The fact he was ranking in the majority party was enough of an influence. A wink and a nod is all it takes. This man has more connections to contracting between state and private sectors. The fact the Reynolds name is attached to his campaign speaks volumes. We had enough cronyism under Sonny skies. Just look as who Johnson is associated with to foresee who gets the spoils of a win by him. No thanks.

Base

May 25th, 2010
4:21 pm

Crook at work!

Georgian

May 25th, 2010
4:30 pm

So, Mr. Eric Johnson who wants to “enforce the law” with regards to AZ and the KSU student, YET he is simply saying that his failure to COMPLY with ETHICS laws was INADVERTENT. What a sham of a politician, who should know better if he is running for Governor. “Enforce the law unless it is enforced against me”—that… should be his new bumper sticker.

Screwball Willie

May 25th, 2010
4:44 pm

Am I wrong in wondering why all the AJC has to offer on this local GA politician is a repost of an AP news wire story?

????

May 25th, 2010
4:47 pm

Looks like Jamie Reynolds wasn’t paying Erick Johnson enough. The taxpayer had better look out if Johnson gets elected.

Enjoy Persecution?

May 25th, 2010
4:53 pm

Jebbery=Christian basher

How sad.

clem

May 25th, 2010
4:54 pm

Is there any Republican out there who isn’t crooked? And what hypocrites! Picking on the KSU student for breaking the law when most of them have also broken laws. God save us from self-righteous, lying hypocrites!

[...] Click here to read more. [...]

jeshws

May 25th, 2010
5:00 pm

Just another crooked politician that helped himself while breaking the State Bank. How many more including Sonny will be identified before the next election and hopefully get their next career in a Georgia Prison? The state house needs cleaning up – so lets try this next election. We tax payers need some releif!

Reality Check

May 25th, 2010
5:04 pm

Georgia Politican=Crook

Red

May 25th, 2010
5:08 pm

Clem – you’re a fool if you think hypocrisy and crookedness is limited to one party. It’s like Dems in DC publicly telling Wall Street to reform while privately pocketing some cash from them. Or Dems telling us we need more regulation for offshore drilling when we see that the regulations on the books are not enforced – not to mention Obama decrying Big Oil while being the largest recipient of BP donations.

Dave

May 25th, 2010
5:51 pm

I was going to comment that I didn’t think it was that big a deal. Johnson disclosed the bulk of his state work and he or someone in the firm screwed up on a contract. The fact that his status as a legislator either helped or hurt depending on who you listen to doesn’t seem to be relevant. Then, I read the comment comparing this “inadvertent” error and the kid up in Cobb County, emphasis the “kid.” Sophisticated architect/legislator/business partner: I should get a pass while throwing the girl’s but out of the country. Strikes me as just a touch hypocritical.

From the AJC on May 11:

“Republican candidate for governor Eric Johnson issued a statement Tuesday calling for stricter rules for undocumented students.”

Perhaps we need stricter rules for candidates for Governor.

Great Architect

May 25th, 2010
5:54 pm

No doubt my Man was simply following change orders!

tc

May 25th, 2010
6:12 pm

deal was probably his mentor

[...] Continue reading here: Eric Johnson failed to disclose $280k paid to his … – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog… [...]

Rural Education

May 25th, 2010
8:25 pm

Johnson is also one of the leaders of the pro-voucher crowd who really want to completely dismantle public education. Of course he knows as does every good Republican all he has to do is say he love “Jesus and guns” and he wins. It really doesn’t take much to get people to vote against their own economic self interest.

Ready2Rumble

May 26th, 2010
7:27 am

Eric the MILLION DOLLAR MAN Johnson took about $1,000,000 of taxpayers funds while he was a sitting senator. While he was making himself richer, he forgot to disclose 30% of the $1,000,000 that he took.

Now he’s asking the people of Georgia to elect him when he forgets 30% of what he earned? Is he going to forget 48 counties? Is he going to forget 1,800,000 people. What else is he going to forget?

Georgia doesn’t need the MILLION DOLLAR MAN who forgets 30%

GoOx

May 26th, 2010
7:29 am

Another one bites the dust. My Man Ox is going to win thing thing without a run-off. Then he gores King-Roy

Mr. Grumpy

May 26th, 2010
8:51 am

Hey, Red, get your facts straight…John McCain received far more money from the oil industry than Obama. It was somewhere in the vicinity of two times as much. So, what kind of hypocrisy is that? Acceptable? …from the former-presidential candidate who pictured himself as squeaky clean?

NP

May 26th, 2010
10:14 am

While Eric Johnson was serving on the Jekyll Island State Park Authority Board and also a serving as a President Pro Tem of the Senate, he was instrumental in the award of a 25 year, endlessly renewable, no-compete contract for the development of Jekyll Island to a company owned by his campaign finance manager. The deal was heavily weighted in favor of the developer’s interests and was sharply opposed by Jeff Chapman, Republican Senator representing Brunswick and Jekyll Island, who is now also running for Governor.

Another crook at the trough

May 27th, 2010
10:55 am

Looks like big government works pretty well for him!

Concerned Citizen

June 2nd, 2010
3:50 pm

Amazes me how a state senator can vote to fund projects and then personally reap benefits.

Funny how state employees are held to higher standards!

Will we see more of the same if he is elected Governor?

Fuzzy Wuzzy

June 2nd, 2010
3:51 pm

Any Hobbs Act Violations Here?

UGA Belle

June 22nd, 2010
2:55 pm

In 2002, the date of the memo obtained by the AP that suggests terminating a contract with Hussey, Gay, Bell, and DeYoung (HGBD), Eric Johnson was not neccessarily as powerful a legislator as the article eludes to. The state senate was still controlled by the Democrats, as was the house. The article is blending together dates to make this allegation look more damning than it is.

When you look at an alleged ethical violation you must look at intent. Oxendine clearly has intent when he gets campaign contributions funneled to him from an insurance company. “WSB cited campaign finance reports involving more than $100,000 to Oxendine’s 2006 re-election campaign for insurance commissioner. The money was mostly from Dr. Jeffrey Gallups. The station also said the Atlanta physician, who sought Oxendine’s help in an insurance dispute, paid at least $1,915 for Oxendine’s 2007 trip to the Academy Awards. ”

Deal clearly had intent when had his staff intervene with the state to keep a monopoly he personally benefited from. The OCE released a lengthy report first probed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution focusing on allegations that “Deal and his business partner made hundreds of thousands of dollars from a vehicle salvage and disposal business, called GSD, and that Deal used his office resources, including his chief of staff’s time, to prevent Georgia state officials from making changes to the state vehicle inspection system that would hurt the business and revenue streams from it. In 2008 Deal made at least $75,000 in earned income, the OCE found, nearly triple the limit of $25,830. He listed $50,000 to $100,000 in unearned income from the salvage business on his financial disclosure form. However, he described the same income as earned wages on his 2008 personal income tax forms. The OCE report also notes that Deal received W-2 forms from GSD in 2006, 2007 and 2008 so there’s “substantial reason to believe Representative Deal violated the House Ethics Manual’s directive to disclose all earned income.””

Senator Johnson did not have any intent to violate state ethics laws. This was clearly a clerical oversight and not a substantive violation of state ethics laws. He was not even required by law, at the time of this disclosure, to report what he did report. He reported it out of pure obligation to the public to let them know his financials.

UGA Belle

June 22nd, 2010
2:56 pm

Also, I agree with the article in the Savannah Morning News.

“ANY OPEN accounting of any state contracts with a lawmaker’s business is noteworthy. That clarity is paramount in avoiding potential conflicts of interest.

It is unfortunate that Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Johnson failed to report a $280,000 contract 11 years ago when he was serving in the state Senate and was part-owner of the architectural firm Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung.

He messed up, plain and simple. However, it’s not the kind of gaffe that most Georgians should lose sleep over.

According to the Associated Press, the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission paid Mr. Johnson’s firm for design work in 1999 on renovations to a library at Dalton State College. That item, however, was not reported to the State Ethics Commission as required.

Mr. Johnson had asked his company’s bookkeeping department for a list of state contracts. But that project (one of dozens of public and private jobs taken on by this large firm that year) was inadvertently left off the list. Mr. Johnson then delivered that incomplete list to the ethics commission.

In that same year, he reported five other contracts. In subsequent years he did report payments on the Dalton State project.

Such a pattern suggests an elected official who’s scrupulous. While that doesn’t erase what happened, it appears to have been an honest mistake, not a conscious effort to hide state income from ethics watchdogs or from taxpayers.

In fact, from 1999 to 2004, during his first stint at the architectural firm, he reported $575,000 in payments from state agencies.

Mr. Johnson said that figure is lower than it would have been if he had not been in the legislature. That’s because he was prohibited from marketing the firm’s services to state entities.

Maybe. But it still was his responsibility to ensure full financial reporting. That didn’t happen more than a decade ago.

So why did it surface just now in the heat of a crowded GOP primary fight? Indeed, it’s interesting that Mr. Johnson’s miscue didn’t make some noise in 2001, when then-Sen. Johnson was hammering then-Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, over corporate tax breaks and the governor’s personal finances.

Voters, of course, must look at the context of Mr. Johnson’s 11-year-old error to decide its significance. There’s no doubt he fouled up one time. But in our view, this new revelation smacks of hardball politics during an election year, not evidence of a former elected official with something to hide.”