The Jolt: Doug Collins suggests Korean firm, recipient of $300m in tax breaks, is engaged in employment ‘conspiracy’

March 19, 2019 - Atlanta - Kim Jun (from left), SK Innovation CEO, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Gov. Brian Kemp, and Chey Jae won, SK Executive Vice Chairman, joined in a groundbreaking ceremony. A South Korean automotive battery maker broke ground in March on a new nearly $1.7 billion battery plant in Jackson County, one of the largest single economic development projects in the state’s history and one that will bring a significant foreign investment — and 2,000 jobs. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

We have touched on this before, but U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, in the middle of a U.S. Senate contest, is wading even deeper into a sensitive, economic development issue that could have implications up and down the Republican food chain.

One week ago, we told you that Collins had asked two federal agencies --- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection – to investigate a May incident in which a plane-load of illegal South Korean workers was intercepted.

The workers were apparently headed for the Jackson County site of a battery manufacturer that has received $300 million in tax abatements and other incentives from the state and from local governments.

On Thursday, the Gainesville Republican said he had written a second letter. Which includes this:

Shortly after my initial letter, an investigative reporter with Fox 5 Atlanta aired an investigative report which further substantiated my initial understanding that there is a large-scale, ongoing effort to subvert United States immigration laws in an effort to illegally employ Korean foreign nationals at the SK battery factory construction site in Commerce, Georgia.

In Fox 5′s report, they document widespread busing of foreign workers to and from the construction site and short-term housing rentals. When Fox 5 followed these workers as they bused from the construction site to rental housing and attempted to ask them about their presence in the United States, none of the workers were able to respond in English. Since Fox 5s report, I have received information from additional constituents reporting that more than 30 houses have been rented to support this illegal workforce.

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Collins’ missive gets still more interesting:

If this was not enough to strongly suggest an ongoing conspiracy to subvert the laws of the United States in building the expansion of the SK battery factory using illegal labor from Korea, what I have learned in the short period following the report certainly is.

In early July, local government officials were alerted to unusual commercial traffic to and from a non-operational chicken farm on an otherwise quiet road. Their investigation led to the discovery of over 200 persons, the overwhelming majority of apparent Korean nationality, working in a large-scale effort to train on-the-job welders.

During inspection for apparent permit violations, officials were told that this was a training facility where the apparent Korean nationals were being taught to weld. This facility, which was shut down by local officials [in] early July, was less than five miles from the SK battery factory construction site mentioned in my August 19 letter.

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The congressman admits that he has been part of an effort to intervene with the federal government on the battery company’s behalf -- in the name of jobs and economic development:

Elected officials have gone above and beyond to encourage SK to bring good paying jobs to Georgia. The state of Georgia generously gave SK over $300 million in tax breaks, grants, and land to encourage them to bring their battery factory to the state, and just recently, myself and a number of lawmakers in the Georgia delegation submitted a letter to the International Trade Commission (ITC) discouraging the ITC from imposing import restrictions — a remedy that would undoubtedly hurt Georgia workers — in response to SKs apparent theft of trade secrets from another South Korean foreign firm.

Now, it appears the jobs SK had promised would employ hardworking Georgians might not even be safe as a result of welding work conducted by apparent novice foreign workers. These illegal and immoral actions are, quite frankly, disgusting and a betrayal to Georgia taxpayers who have invested heavily in SKs development in Jackson County.

On Friday, an SK official was quoted by the Korean Times stating, “We hired those Korean workers because they are specialized in constructing battery factories.” Not only is this statement impossible to reconcile with the extensive training operation discovered in early August, but it is legally no excuse for breaking U.S. immigration laws. I implore ICE and CBP to use every resource in your power to investigate SK and their contractors to identify and deport this illegal workforce and hold responsible anyone involved.

I also urge you to suspend visas for any SK employee traveling to Georgia from any part of the world until this matter is resolved. In a confidential addendum to this letter my office will be providing a list of locations where these illegal workers are apparently living as well as the location of the off-site welding operation...

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The SK project was first announced in November during the closing weeks of former Gov. Nathan Deal’s second term. But Brian Kemp was governor by the time ground was broken in March 2019, with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in attendance.

“It’s not only an exciting day for all of us here but it’s an exciting day for all hardworking Georgians out there for the opportunities they’ll see in the future,” Kemp said.

In a statement made last week, SK Battery America put the blame for the May incident at the airport on an unnamed contractor. The company also said that “more than 1,000 U.S. citizens have been hired as part of the construction process of the $2.5 billion EV battery site.”

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In case you couldn’t stay up to watch, we’ve got the highlights of Day 4 of the Republican National Convention right here. President Donald Trump, from a stage on the South Lawn of the White House, used much of a 70-minute acceptance speech to go after his Democratic rival:

“We have spent the last four years reversing the damage Joe Biden inflicted over the last 47 years,” Trump said. “At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies or two agendas.”

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When the Georgia history books are written, here’s a piece of trivia that we still don’t quite believe is true: Who was the only Georgian to speak in primetime during the 2020 Republican National Convention? Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones of Lithonia.

Jones was among the guests invited to the White House on Thursday night who were heckled by protesters as they walked back to their hotels.

Video posted to Twitter shows Jones holding hands with a woman and being escorted past people shouting at him. Jones looks straight ahead and does not speak.

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Already posted: Atlanta attorney Lin Wood is arranging legal representation for the Illinois teen accused of murder in the wake of racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisc.. Prosecutors on Thursday charged Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, in the fatal shooting of two protesters and the wounding of a third in Kenosha, during a night of unrest following the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake.

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Need further evidence of Georgia’s battleground status? From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Senate Leadership Fund, an outside group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has as of Thursday spent more against [Jon] Ossoff than any other Democratic Senate candidate—part of an announced $6.6 million “surge” of spending in the state. Another $13.5 million is on its way between September and Election Day.

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U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has been hammered by Doug Collins and his allies over the WNBA’s participation in a partnership that funneled some ticket sale profits to Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization that provides abortions.

Loeffler, a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream franchise, has long said the team didn’t take part in that initiative and, in a story posted today by ESPN, that “we have never given as an organization to Planned Parenthood because we didn’t participate in that.” ESPN reports on some pushback:

Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, disputed Loeffler’s claim and provided photos, reviewed by ESPN, of volunteers and staff at a table, talking to fans at a Dream game on Aug. 11, 2018...

“In 2018, under Kelly Loeffler’s co-ownership, the Atlanta Dream recognized its shared values with Planned Parenthood,” Lawson said in a statement. “Loeffler’s stark departure from the very values we witnessed under her co-ownership is dishonest, disingenuous, and dangerous.”

When asked to clarify the Dream’s involvement with Planned Parenthood, a spokeswoman for Loeffler’s campaign said that neither Loeffler nor the Dream “have given a dime to Planned Parenthood.” She neither confirmed nor denied that the Dream had hosted volunteers and staff for Planned Parenthood at a home game on Aug. 11, 2018.

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Another tidbit: The outlet reports that former Los Angeles Clipper star Baron Davis is apparently interested in buying the Dream. He told ESPN: “I would say, just from the Donald Sterling thing, I think it’s just life coming full circle.” From the piece:

Davis said he was not at liberty to disclose whether Loeffler was willing to sell her ownership stake in the team, reportedly 49%, or what role the Brock family would have with the team going forward.

Numerous voicemails and text messages left by ESPN for Mary and John Brock were not returned.

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Republican rivals U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins have dueling events on Friday. Loeffler was set to host an event in Cobb County with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, though he was a late scratch. Collins is rallying in Alpharetta and his hometown of Gainesville along with a special guest: Former First Lady Sandra Deal. Her husband, ex-Gov. Nathan Deal, still hasn’t taken sides in the race.

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Doug Collins may have violated House Ethics rules but cutting-and-pasting language from his official congressional website to his Senate campaign site, Roll Call reports.

Rep. Doug Collins, who is in a tightly contested race for a Georgia Senate seat against Sen. Kelly Loeffler, used exact language describing his anti-abortion position from his official House website for use on his campaign page, seemingly a violation of House Ethics rules.

Members are allowed to use materials originally prepared by the official office for campaigning purposes if those materials have been “exhausted,” but because Collins’ stance on abortion is still laid out on his official House website, it would be prohibited from being directly copied for his Senate campaign.

On his government website, Collins, a Georgia Republican, lists several examples of efforts he has made under the heading “Protecting Life.” The examples he gives under this section on his official website mirror what is listed under the “Defending the Right to Life” component of his senate campaign page.

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Dan McLagan, Collins’ campaign spokesman, told Roll Call he would investigate to see if any changes need to be made.

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Gwinnett County Democrats, hoping for a blue wave that brings a host of party members to prominent local positions, announced the launch of a $200,000 local campaign focused on increasing voter turnout and ensuring all ballots are counted. The Gwinnett Coordinated Campaign will include digital ads and the recruitment of poll watchers for each precinct.

In addition to hopes that Joe Biden carries Gwinnett in November, local party leaders are also backing Democratic candidates for Congress, sheriff and county commission chair.

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U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will appear in a virtual “Rock the Vote” event alongside celebrities who hope to get more young people, especially women, registered for the general election. The “We Vote. We Rise” event will be live streamed Monday at 9 p.m.

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In endorsement news: BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is backing Carolyn Bourdeaux in the Seventh District race.

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