Carter pledges to disclose donation history of board appointees

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It’s a big year for politics in Georgia, with a governor up for re-election and an open U.S. Senate seat. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is following it every step of the way.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter vowed Friday to release donor information on board appointees when he picks them for posts if he’s elected governor.

Carter made the pledge in response to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation that found 43 members of three of Georgia's elite boards, their families and businesses contributed nearly $1.3 million to Gov. Nathan Deal's campaigns and political action committee.

Deal appoints the members of those three boards, which govern the University System of Georgia, the Ports Authority and the Department of Natural Resources. About 84 percent of all members of those elite boards have donated to Deal, including three who — along with their families and businesses — each donated more than $100,000.

The 51 members of those boards include five women and one African-American.

Such big-money donors have filled elite boards for decades, through Democratic administrations and Republican administrations, including that of Carter’s grandfather, who served as governor from 1971 to 1975.

But Carter, who called the findings “disturbing,” said, “Just because it has been done that way in the past doesn’t make it right.”

Carter said Deal’s first act as governor was to appoint his campaign chairman, Philip Wilheit, a major donor, to the Board of Regents.

“What it goes to show is what comes first to the governor is his campaign donors, his wealthy friends, and what comes second or last is average Georgians,” Carter said.

Carter said donations shouldn’t be a primary reason someone is appointed to a key board. And he promised, if elected, to disclose whether appointees are donors when appointments are made.

Brian Robinson, a spokesman for the Deal campaign, noted that Carter didn’t pledge not to appoint big donors.

“He’s going to do exactly what Governor Deal has done, what President Obama has done, what President Carter did and what every governor in the state has done,” Robinson said. “And that is to appoint people who agree with your view on how government should run, people who want to carry out your vision for the state so much that they want to donate to your campaign to keep you in office and donate their time to the state.”

Robinson also pointed out that Carter, as a state senator, voted to approve Deal’s board appointments in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He voted against them in 2014 when he was running for governor.

Robinson compared that to Carter’s stance on education: The Democrat has attacked Deal for pushing state budgets that included billions of dollars in austerity cuts to k-12 education. But Carter voted for budgets that included those cuts until this year.

“That is the basest and silliest of politics,” Robinson said.

Carter said it is the governor’s prerogative to make board appointments, and he expects the Senate to approve them. He didn’t explain why he voted against them in 2014, and a campaign spokesman said he didn’t know why.