New Lawsuit: Secretary Perdue’s Ties to Georgia Industry Groups

American Oversight today sued the Department of Agriculture to investigate whether Secretary Sonny Perdue’s ties to agricultural-interest groups in Georgia have had an impact on his policy decisions.

Since his appointment, Perdue’s complicated network of ties with Georgia-based entities, including Perdue Partners and AGrowStar, has raised questions about potential conflicts of interest as secretary. These concerns have been exacerbated by the USDA’s reluctance to release records of Perdue’s communications with his family businesses and external groups — including emails sent from a personal account.

Perdue’s calendars, obtained by American Oversight, showed that he traveled back to Georgia 13 times between April and November 2017 — all thanks to taxpayer dollars. Just a day after he was sworn in, Perdue had a meeting with members of the Georgia Farm Bureau, including his cousin, Senator David Perdue.

Perdue’s business ties have 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.

“Whether it’s Perdue in Georgia, Chao in Kentucky, or Pompeo in Kansas, Trump cabinet officials have shown us time and time again that political patronage for their home states take priority over national interests,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “This is a pattern that is frustrating to witness. We shouldn’t have to question whether the Secretary of Agriculture is working on behalf of America’s farmers, or his family’s businesses.”

American Oversight has been investigating the Trump administration’s many conflicts of interest and officials’ use of personal email accounts for more than two years. The group’s investigations have shed light on reports such as Ivanka Trump’s use of a personal email for government business, and Wilbur Ross’s complicated financial ties.

Today’s lawsuit follows several Freedom of Information Act requests from August 2019 seeking 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. The USDA has failed to provide final responses to these requests.

The full draft of the complaint can be found here.