- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Gov. Nathan Deal, helped in large part by the sale of an auto salvage company he co-owned, has reported an improvement in his personal finances heading into a competitive re-election bid four years after questions were raised about his sizable debts.

Deal, a Republican who faces two opponents in the May 20 primary, increased his net worth by about $1 million over the past four years and reduced his overall debt by $1.8 million, according to a state disclosure. Deal’s net worth was listed as $3.9 million, with real estate providing the bulk of $5.9 million in reported assets.

Deal has paid off “a good bit of debt,” Jimmy Allen, who oversees the governor’s blind trust, said Wednesday. “There is no sort of indication that would show any sort of stress on him financially. I think things have sort of been fixed by the sales of those properties and the reduction of debt.”

Candidates are required to file the detailed reports after qualifying. Among Deal’s Republican opponents, Dalton Mayor David Pennington has the most wealth and access to cash while state schools Superintendent John Barge saw a significant decline in his property values. Democrat Jason Carter reported a net worth of $656,000 due largely to his retirement and brokerage accounts.

In the 2010 race, Deal had to explain a $2.3 million bank loan he had guaranteed as part of a failed sporting goods business launched by his daughter and son-in-law, as well as a failure initially to disclose $2.85 million in business loans. Allen said the $2.3 million loan was paid off last year after the governor liquidated more than $576,000 in his retirement accounts, sold the property where the sporting goods business was located and used a portion of his proceeds from the sale of the Gainesville auto salvage company.

Deal received approximately $2 million in the sale plus $120,000 annually for leasing the land, Allen said. Separately, Copart, the firm that purchased Deal’s company, has been fighting claims by the Georgia Department of Revenue that it failed to remit sales taxes of $74 million, including penalties and interest. Allen said the rent payments will be used to pay off a remaining $1.5 million in business loans.

Pennington, who co-owns an insurance company, reported $2.9 million in assets with no debt. His wealth comes largely from $1.8 million in an investment account as well as ownership interests in the insurance company and a separate real estate company valued at a combined $740,000. Although he reported no personal debts, the disclosure noted the two companies have $385,000 in loans due this year.

David Pennington lives his personal life like he served as mayor - conservatively,” said campaign manager Michael Mule. “With relatively no debt and achieving success as a small businessman, David Pennington is a fiscal conservative.”

Pennington’s disclosure was the subject of a recent ethics complaint for being filed late. Mule blamed a technical glitch and said the campaign would pay $125 to settle the complaint.

Barge reduced his debts by about $18,000 over the past four years but took a hit in the housing market. His home, valued at $248,000 in 2009, is now worth $162,000. A rental property showed a similar decline, and Barge said he cashed out his $11,000 retirement account after his wife, who was battling cancer at the time, retired.

“I’m your typical, average Georgian,” Barge said, citing Deal’s estimated wealth. “It’s hard to imagine someone who is worth $4 million understanding what the average Georgian goes through, being able to understand how your policies and your legislation impacts the average Georgian.”

Carter, an attorney running uncontested in the Democratic primary, reported an annual salary of $128,800 last year with about $390,800 in retirement and brokerage accounts. Much of Carter’s debt was associated with his Atlanta home, valued at $493,000. Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, reported a $75,000 interest in the family farm in Plains and an undetermined interest in Delta Plains LP, a Las Vegas-based investment company started by his father.

A Carter campaign spokeswoman declined comment.


Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP_Christina.



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