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Sept. 28 – ELECTION 2018 – Sen. Ben Watson Forced to Re-File Personal Financial Disclosures for Himself and Wife, Listing Assets

Category: 2018 Local and State Elections

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

September 28, 2018 – As a result of a formal complaint filed with the State of Georgia ethics commission, State Sen. Ben Watson (R) has amended his Personal Financial Disclosure Reports for the past two years, and is facing an ongoing investigation by that commission.  

In August, Sandra Workman (D), pictured, who is challenging Watson for his GA-1 Senate seat, noticed that the Senator has routinely listed almost no assets, and listed only the name of a private stock account used to make trades, without  listing the stocks he was trading in, as required by Georgia Campaign Finance laws. 

After consulting with the ethics commission, Workman, a Bryan County businesswoman, filed a complaint. The commission’s formal name is the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. Both Sen. Watson's Original filings and Amended filings can be found at their website at www.ethics.ga.gov

In an interview with Sen. Watson back in August, after Workman sent a copy of her complaint to all local media companies, he said that he was looking into her complaint, and blamed any error on “my accountant, who files all that stuff.”

In a second interview, he identified the firm as Hancock Askew, in Savannah.  The focus of her complaint is his ‘Section VII Investment Interests” information, and his “SECTION VIII Known Business Investment Interests of Spouse and Dependent Children.”  He must list all assets of over $5,000 in any stock, trust fund, bank account, mutual fund or retirement account. 

The purpose of the Georgia law is to allow voters to interpret the priorities and subsequent votes by their elected officials, as investments they own may influence their priorities, such as if a Georgia Senator owns stock in General Dynamics (Gulfstream) and then votes for aviation tax reduction credits. 

By statute, a State Senator with a conflict of interest is expected to recuse themselves from such a vote, or face an investigation by the Senate Ethic’s Committee. 

The Commission reviewed her complaint, and quickly sent Watson a letter giving him 30 days to respond, by Sept. 10th.  He revised his filings for the two years.  The Commission has confirmed that their investigation is still open. 

In an interview today, Sen. Watson said, “He (accountant) looked at what other senators had done, and he thought that was appropriate (the Amended filing).  But, I’m not trying to push it all on Hancock Askew. They are happy to say ‘This is our advice; but it is ultimately my responsibility, I’m the State Senator.” 

According to Workman, "We want to make sure that all of our elected officials are transparent in their financial dealings.  This is only fair to the people who live in the District." 

Prior to Workman’s complaint, Sen. Watson had listed only four assets under his ownership in 2017:

- ING Retirement Account

- Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, including brokerage and trust accounts

- South Coast Group VIII, LLC Individual Retirement Account

- South State Bank - Personal Savings Account

However, his Amended 2017 financial statement now lists the following funds and stocks.  

- AllianzGI NF J Small-Cap Value Fnd R

- American Funds EuroPacific R3

- American Funds Fdmntl Inv R3

- American Funds Growth Fnd R3

- BLACKROCK CORP HGH YLD FD INC (HYT)

- COCA COLA CO (KO)

- ISHARES BARCLAYS 1-3 YR TSY BD (SHY)

- ISHARES IBOXX INVEST GR COR BD (LQD)

- ISHARES INC MSCI JAPAN ETF (EWJ)

- ISHARES RUSSELL 1000 GRW ETF (IWF)

- ISHARES RUSSELL 2000 GRWTH ETF (IWO)

- ISHARES RUSSELL 2000 VALUE ETF (IWN)

- ISHARES RUSSELL MIDCAP G ETF  (IWP)

- ISHARES S&P MID-CAP 400 G ETF  (IJK)

- ISHARES S&P MID-CAP 400 V ETF  (IJJ)

- ISHARES TIPS BOND ETF (TIP)

- JOHNSON & JOHNSON (JNJ)

- MORGAN STANLEY PRIVATE BANK NA # Money Market Fund -

- VANGUARD FTSE DEVELOPED MKTS E (VEA)

- VANGUARD FTSE EMERGING MARKETS (VWO)

- VANGUARD VALUE ETF INDEX (VTV)

- Voya SmallCap Opportunities

Blackrock is the single biggest investor fund in the U.S., in what many term “the companies that run the world,” including global banks, such as Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase; and oil giants such as Exxon Mobil and Shell. 

The information on the assets of Sen. Ben Watson’s wife and dependents in 2017 were also amended.  She is a public school teacher in Chatham County.  Previously, assets in her name during 2017, and of his dependents, in Section VIII were listed as:

- 35 Bluff Drive, LLC. Spouse is an LLC Member.

- Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Irrevocable Trust Accounts. Spouse serves as trustee, children are beneficiaries

- Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Spouse's personal brokerage account.

- South State Bank - Personal Savings Account

However, now in the Amended 2017 statement, the Section VIII information shows his dependents’ and wife’s assets are: 

- AMERICAN GR FD OF AMERICA C (GFACX)

- AMERICAN GR FD OF AMERICA C (GFACX)

- AMERICAN GR FD OF AMERICA C (GFACX)

- BANK OF AMERICA CORP (BAC)

- ISHARES SELECT DIVIDEND ETF (DVY)

- ISHARES SELECT DIVIDEND ETF (DVY)

-  ISHARES SELECT DIVIDEND ETF (DVY)

-  LOWES COMPANIES INC (LOW)

-  LOWES COMPANIES INC (LOW)

-  LOWES COMPANIES INC (LOW)

-  LOWES COMPANIES INC (LOW)

- MORGAN STANLEY PRIVATE BANK NA # Money Market Fund

- MORGAN STANLEY PRIVATE BANK NA # Money Market Fund

- MORGAN STANLEY PRIVATE BANK NA # Money Market Fund

- MORGAN STANLEY PRIVATE BANK NA # Money Market Fund

Sen. Watson also amended his 2016 personal financial statement for himself and his wife, which can be seen on the ethics website.

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