From his personal finances to his campaign disclosures, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun has shown a pattern of carelessness that has dogged him for decades.
Now a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Broun deflects responsibility for his transgressions as either the doing of his “old self” before he found Jesus Christ or mistakes by those around him. Critics see hypocrisy in the man who preaches personal responsibility.
Politically, Broun has survived talk about his past since winning a surprise victory in a 2007 special election for his Athens-based congressional seat, but the competitive GOP Senate primary presents a tougher test.
The roots of both his political career and financial woes lie in Broun’s love of hunting. His public policy interest was sparked by working as a volunteer lobbyist for the Safari Club, and his hunting habit drained his bank account.
Court records from his 1982 bankruptcy show Broun was making $125,000 a year as a physician in Americus, in southwest Georgia. At the same time he “has a reputation of having an extravagant life style,” a bankruptcy judge wrote in an order against Broun.
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Broun spent his money on “a number of expensive rare hunting books, expensive ceramic items related to hunting, safari to Africa, expensive gun collection and the acquisition of the very best in anything purchased.”
The judge ruled that Broun gave false statements on loan applications after his usual bank in Americus stopped lending him money. Judgments against Broun for Sumter Bank and Trust and the Commerce Bank totaled more than $200,000.
“The Court finds that the Debtor in all of his financial transactions displayed a reckless indifference to his financial affairs,” the judge wrote.
In addition, the Internal Revenue Service filed more than $60,000 worth of liens against Broun for unpaid federal taxes in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He divorced his third wife, Anne Jean Broun, in 1982. Two years later he was found in contempt of court for owing her $467 in alimony.
Broun said in those days he was self-centered and it was not until he dedicated his life to Jesus in 1990 that he turned things around. He has been married to his fourth wife, Niki, since 1985.
“When people look at that old life, that old self, they’re looking at something that is past and gone,” Broun said.
“I’ve been paying my bills and very successful and not had any financial problems since then,” he said. “I learned a lot through that process which has helped me actually look at things from a better perspective.”
The problems did not cease entirely.
In 2006, the Composite State Board of Medical Examiners sanctioned Broun and fined him $500 for failing to renew his medical license on time.
The next year he won a special election to fill the congressional seat that opened when U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood died. Broun made copious use of taxpayer-funded “franked” communications to constituents, draining his office budget as he survived a primary challenge in 2008.
Broun’s chief of staff left after his office spent 80 percent of its budget in half the year, but Broun pointed out that he finished 2008 in the black and says he returned unspent money to the Treasury that year.
In 2010, state and federal regulators shut down a failing bank in Carrollton that he and his brothers partly owned. At the time, Broun described himself as a silent investor in the bank; his brother Conway had a more active role.
His experience with the Federal Election Commission, which collects reports on campaign contributions and expenditures for members of Congress, has been spotty as well.
In 2012, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which was started by Democrats, filed a complaint claiming Broun failed to identify the source of loans to his campaign in 2007 and 2008. Broun had initially declared them to be personal loans made to his campaign at no interest, but subsequent filings showed $28,756 in interest payments from the campaign back to Broun.
Broun said the money came from a home equity line of credit with Athens First Bank & Trust and that he did not pocket any of it. He blamed an “inexperienced” treasurer for his “simple filing error.”
“And as soon as we found out about that we corrected it,” he said. “We went through the process of having looked at it; the FEC has exonerated me and had no problem there.”
The FEC did dismiss the charges in March — nearly two years after CREW filed its complaint — but concluded that Broun’s campaign committee made multiple errors in reporting the source of five loans totaling $179,000, including:
- Failing to report the first “draw” of $65,000 from the home equity loan;
- Incorrectly reporting the second and third draws totaling $114,000 as personal loans from Broun;
- And failing to disclose that the first draw was used to repay an earlier personal loan from Broun.
In its ruling, the FEC said it was dismissing the complaint because the loans were made outside of the commission’s five-year statute of limitations, but the commissioners found Broun himself was not personally liable for the errors.
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said Broun was so intimately involved with the loan it is “completely ridiculous” for him to blame his treasurer for not properly reporting it.
“It’s deliberately obfuscating the truth,” she said. “It’s not a campaign treasurer’s mistake to say you loaned yourself money.”
Sloan added: “Whatever happens it wasn’t his fault. Not exactly the acceptance of responsibility that Republicans push for everybody else.”
At a recent Senate GOP debate in Grovetown, Broun said the ills of the Republican Party can be solved by a return to core principles such as smaller government, lower taxes and “a philosophy of personal responsibility and accountability.”
In its ruling, the FEC also noted that the Broun campaign had “substantially corrected the record” with new filings showing how the loans were made and repaid. Broun, however, did not show the home equity loans on his personal financial disclosures submitted to the House clerk until December of last year, when he filed an amended 2008 disclosure claiming the loan to his campaign as a financial asset.
Curiously, the disclosure did not list the money owed to the bank as a liability.
When asked, Broun said he never considered himself the debtor, even though he signed for it and used his personal residence as collateral.
“The thing is the campaign basically paid off the loan and it was a loan to the campaign, and so it was from my perspective always considered to be part of just something that the campaign owed,” he said. “They paid it off.”
Broun drew criticism for his office expenditures again this year for spending $33,000 on a taxpayer-funded communications consultant who had been a debate coach for presidential candidates. House officials cleared the expense, which Broun said was a proper use of his allotment made well before he started running for the Senate.
Broun’s rivals to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss have only hinted at Broun’s personal troubles.
A research document produced during Broun’s 2008 campaign against state Rep. Barry Fleming that aired many of the problems surfaced on the Internet this year and was anonymously distributed to voters and reporters.
For Broun, who is running as an anti-establishment conservative, it’s all old news.
“Things have been twisted around because I’m fighting against what the politicians and bureaucrats want, and that’s more power and more control over people’s lives,” he said. “Folks who want the power, want control over people’s lives, want to find anything they can to attack me even to the point going back 30 years ago to bring up points that really are irrelevant today.”