AJC Sheds Light on Nunn’s Conservation Easements

August 14, 2014 10:45 am

by Jon Richards · 14 comments

When National Review broke the story about the release of Michelle Nunn’s internal campaign memo last month, reporters noticed a reference to “Conservation Easements” listed as one of her personal vulnerabilities that could be exploited by her future opponent. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Daniel Malloy has done the research on those easements, and his story is on the front page of this morning’s AJC.

In 2004, Nunn, her father, four-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, local builder Michael Wilson and two Washington lobbyists who were senior aides for Sam Nunn — Bob Hurt and Frank Norton — secured along with their spouses a $2 million loan to buy 850 acres of land in Glynn County.

At the end of 2008, the county approved a zoning change for a chunk of the property to “planned development,” with the lead owner listed as Ron Martin, Nunn’s husband. The plan was for 485 housing units, providing a projected boost of $147 million to the local economy.

But by then, the economy was in free fall, and development across the nation ground to a halt. In late 2010, the partners went forward with a much different vision: a conservation easement contract with a private land trust to forever ban development on the vast majority of the property.

According to the AJC, the conservation easement reduced the property’s value, and dropped the annual property tax bill for the parcel from $23,100 to $3,502.

The vulnerability the campaign memo referenced was the candidate’s connection to Washington lobbyists Hurt and Norton. While it might be expected that Nunn would know some Washington insiders, given her famous father, it’s another thing to be involved in a land purchase with two of them. The D.C. connection doesn’t mesh well with Nunn’s claim of being an outsider from Georgia.

The predictable sparring between the Nunn and Republican Senate candidate David Perdue erupted. The Perdue campaign was quick to point out Nunn’s relationships with Washington insiders. The Nunn campaign fired back, claiming that Perdue’s cousin and former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue was a champion of conservation easements, and owns property in Florida that enjoys reduced taxes because of an easement.

It’s too early to predict the exact fallout from this revelation. Nunn and Perdue have made a big deal about being political outsiders. But while it’s true neither have held elected office, her famous father and his famous cousin illustrate that neither is a newcomer to the political world.

During the Republican primary, David Perdue’s opponents called out his former position on the Georgia Ports Authority as evidence of his real insider status. Perhaps Michelle Nunn’s involvement in this land purchase will show up in future commercials as evidence that she isn’t the outsider she appears to be.

Oec August 14, 2014 at 10:59 am

Uhh, yeah; I think the Perdue camp needs to refocus. If this is the kind of thing they’re spending their time on, they’re lost. Jus’ sayin’.

Harry August 14, 2014 at 11:29 am

At least David Perdue has lived in Georgia most or practically all his life and was educated here. How many years did Nunn actually live in Georgia? Likely less than 10 years. She wants to move back to DC where all her friends are.

Bridget Cantrell August 14, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Um, Harry? Did Perdue run the companies in Texas and North Carolina from South Georgia?

TheEiger August 14, 2014 at 1:26 pm

China too.

ricstewart August 14, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Don’t forget the years he lived in Massachusetts and Tennessee.

tribeca August 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Wait, I thought shady land dealings were a pre-requisite to holding state-wide office. Otherwise what were Nathan Deal’s qualifications?

Spacey G August 15, 2014 at 11:06 am

*snort* Indeed.

Bridget Cantrell August 14, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Heh – carry on, gentlemen. Carry on.

You’ve found yourself a big scandal here. I’d double down and do another commercial.

Engineer August 14, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Land deals and Georgia, nothing new there. Well, if they had actually developed the property instead of setting it aside as conservation use property, I could see it causing a stink, but this could easily be spun to show her family as caring about the environment of South Georgia and/or protecting it for future generations’ hunting/fishing.

Harry August 14, 2014 at 11:44 pm

Ms. Nunn moved to DC at the age of 7, and attended eastern private schools and universities. Her Hands On network received a congressional earmark of $10 million per year for several years prior to 2007. It appears that her consummate player dad did have a large role in her development. The insider land deal is just further evidence of being a member of an entitled political family – anything but an outsider. The Zell Miller endorsement is just payback for some old favor from dad.

saltycracker August 15, 2014 at 9:14 am

Pull land deals from political networking out of the equation and where is the incentive to serve the public ? You have to be one rare bird for your net worth to drop in office.
But you have to be a Senator to afford to play the inside stock trading game.

Spacey G August 15, 2014 at 11:07 am

While it’s quite handy to have a high profile parent, even a lobbyist or two, to ease one’s money making ventures along a greased track, we must remember that, at the time, everyone and the waitress down the street was doing a development deal. At the time. At least speculating in real estate with a house-flip vision dancing in their heads. (And I looked at the plans for the development. Heck of a lot nicer stuff than that seedy roadside motel deal Chipster had in mind during his personal Get Rich Quick ‘n Now! phase.)

The scariest thing in this kinda non-story, by far? The line “borrowed $2 million from a bank in Blackshear.”

Engineer August 15, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Blackshear, eh? Knowing how my hometown is, I think I could probably guess which bank it was (of course I won’t though :P ).

Dave Bearse August 15, 2014 at 10:58 pm

This isn’t anything Sonny “Oaky Woods” Perdue’s cousin and business partner is going to make hay on.

Perdue family land holdings in the vicinity appreciated in value, and Sonny had the state pay the same amount for only half as much land.

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