Georgia secretary of state candidate offers explanation for tax debts

A candidate for Georgia secretary of state in this month's runoff election, state Rep. Brad Raffensperger, says he can explain most of $135,000 in tax debts that appeared to be tied to him and his companies.

Raffensperger told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News on Monday that government agencies verified he doesn’t owe most of the debt. But he wasn’t able to account for more than $5,000 in active tax liens on property in Gwinnett and Muscogee counties.

Raffensperger faces former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle in the July 24 Republican Party primary runoff. The winner will run against Democrat John Barrow, a former U.S. congressman, in the November general election.

Candidates who default on taxes are ineligible to hold elected state office unless they clear the debt or set up a payment plan, according to the Georgia Constitution.

“The bottom line is, I don’t owe anything,” said Raffensperger, an engineer and business owner. “I really mind my p’s and q’s. I understand that we have to pay our taxes as elected public officials.”

The Georgia secretary of state is responsible for overseeing elections, administering business incorporations and handling independent professional licensing boards. The Secretary of State's Office has an annual budget of about $30 million.

The tax debt attributed to Raffensperger is listed in government records as tax liens on him personally and companies he operated. A lien is a legal claim to secure debt that often encumbers real or personal property.

Raffensperger produced records showing his construction company, Tendon Systems LLC, was in good standing in Mississippi. He said $124,000 in tax liens attributed to Tendon Systems was associated with a former business partner with a stake in a separate company carrying the same name.

Raffensperger also said about $6,500 in debt associated with a company he founded, Trillium Structures, has been cleared from the books in Georgia. He said the company was exempt from unemployment insurance taxes because it didn’t have payrolled employees at the time.

A letter from the Georgia Department of Labor dated Monday said Trillium Structures is in good standing and in compliance with all tax and wage reporting requirements.

Still, tax lien records show Raffensperger owes $4,609 for 2005 property taxes in Muscogee County, where he ran a manufacturing plant. An additional $449 was owed in Gwinnett County for personal property taxes in 2002 and 2003.

Raffensperger said he doesn’t know why he would owe taxes and what properties they apply to.

“If it’s a personal obligation, I’ll take a look at it,” Raffensperger said. “What is the status of that, is it there, is it active, and what do we have to do with that?”

Belle Isle didn’t return a phone message Monday seeking comment about his opponent’s apparent tax debt.

If tax liens are paid off, they’re automatically canceled in the state’s lien database, said William Gaston, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Liens that haven’t been canceled — like those in Gwinnett and Muscogee counties — are still active.

2018 campaign

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is covering the issues and candidates in a busy election year. Previous stories have focused on topics such as gun rights, immigration and tax policy. Look for more at as the state approaches the next political milepost, the July 24 runoffs.