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.