On Thursday, Politico reported that ethics watchdogs are calling for the Agriculture Department's inspector general to investigate Secretary Sonny Perdue's business holdings.
"Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue pledged in 2017 to separate himself from his multimillion dollar business holdings that could pose conflicts of interest in his public duties. But last year, he disclosed that he had become trustee of a newly formed fund that includes many of the same assets as his original family trust," reported Ryan McCrimmon. "Watchdog organizations are now calling for the Agriculture Department’s inspector general to investigate whether Perdue has run afoul of the ethics agreement he signed as a nominee for the job early in the Trump administration. The commitments entailed moving his holdings into a new trust and agreeing not to serve as a trustee or beneficiary of the fund."
The new complaints come just a week after the Office of Special Counsel found Perdue violated the Hatch Act by promoting President Donald Trump's re-election at a taxpayer-funded event.
"The crux of the watchdog complaint comes down to a handful of Perdue’s businesses that the secretary reported as sources of income, at least a half-million dollars, on his 2019 filing," said the report. "Perdue claimed a combined $511,800 in income from Perdue Inc., a trucking company; Houston Fertilizer & Grain Co., which manages commercial real estate in Bonaire, Ga.; and StarPort Logistics LLC. The first two companies are managed by Perdue’s children, according to Georgia records. Each of those firms is owned by Perdue Business Holdings Inc., and Secretary Perdue’s newly created FALF Management Trust — of which the secretary is a co-trustee — owns 100 percent of the voting stock in Perdue Business Holdings, according to his 2019 disclosure."
"American Oversight and another watchdog group, Accountable.US, claim that violates Perdue’s 2017 agreement with ethics officials that he would restructure his original family trust and transfer all of its stock in Perdue Business Holdings to a new, irrevocable trust that wouldn’t be overseen by or benefit the secretary," said the report.
A USDA spokesperson said that Perdue "complied with his ethics agreement and followed the advice of ethics officers at USDA," and that the trust has subsequently sold off any business holdings which would conflict with Perdue's responsibilities.