Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue entered the Trump administration with a long ethics recusal letter and an extensive financial disclosure report that included a web of Georgia-based entities, including Perdue Partners and AGrowStar. Perdue’s business ties had long raised concerns, even as far back as 2005 when, as Georgia governor, he made national headlines for slyly passing a “seemingly mundane” tax bill that allowed him personally to save more than $100,000 in state taxes. He also broke Georgia tradition by refusing to put his assets in a blind trust, and bought $2 million in land near Disney World from a developer whom he had appointed to the state’s economic development board. And as governor, Perdue continued to own or help run four farming-related family businesses.
Just a day after he was sworn in, he met with members of the Georgia Farm Bureau at a breakfast that also included his cousin, Sen. David Perdue. American Oversight also obtained calendars that show him traveling back to Georgia 13 times between April and November 2017, each time at taxpayer expense. Concerns were exacerbated by the USDA’s reluctance to release records of Perdue’s communications with his family business and external groups, including emails sent from a personal account.
With the USDA pursuing policy changes — for instance, lowering nutritional standards for school lunches — that could benefit large agribusinesses, it’s vital to know whether the former secretary of agriculture’s own personal interests influenced policy.
On April 25, 2019, American Oversight filed a lawsuit for Perdue’s ethics disclosures and his communications with Sen. David Perdue.
On Oct. 30, 2019, American Oversight sued the Department of Agriculture for emails Perdue sent and received using a non-governmental email; emails with external entities and his family at Perdue Partners; external emails sent by the Georgia offices of USDA’s Rural Development Agency and Farm Service Agency to Perdue, his businesses, and his family members; and records related to Perdue’s meetings with Fieldale Farms and the Georgia Feed and Grain Association.