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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Attacking Rick Allen’s Government Contracts

A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee TV ad relies on innuendo and omission to accuse Georgia Republican Rick Allen of making “insider deals” to get government contracts at taxpayer expense:

  • The DCCC doesn’t provide evidence of “insider deals.” Instead, it assumes corruption because Allen’s company once received a contract when it wasn’t the lowest bidder. It also speculates that Allen benefited from his brother’s position as a county commissioner even though the brother recused himself from votes involving Allen’s company.
  • The ad also says that “Allen’s projects went over budget.” Five projects went over budget by a total of almost $935,000. That’s less than 1 percent of the total amount of government contracts the company received over an 18-year period.
  • And when the ad says “our sales taxes were raised to pay for 16 of Allen’s contracts,” it ignores the fact that county residents voted to increase their own taxes.

Allen is running against Democratic Rep. John Barrow who represents Georgia’s 12th Congressional District. He is the founder and CEO of R.W. Allen LLC, a commercial contracting company based in Augusta. Since 1996, that company has received 26 government contracts worth over $184 million, according to documents cited by the DCCC.

The DCCC has run two TV ads attacking Allen’s business. The first ad, which began airing Aug. 15, suggests that at least some of these contracts were the result of “insider deals.” But there’s no hard evidence that that is the case.

To support its claim, the DCCC pointed to an Oct. 8, 2011, Augusta Chronicle story about the selection of Allen’s company to serve as the “construction manager at-risk” for the second phase of the Charles B. Webster Detention Center expansion project in Augusta. That story said city commissioners voted to award the contract to R.W. Allen “in spite of a ruling by Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet that the method used to select construction manager at-risk to oversee the Municipal Building renovations — the same method used to select R.W. Allen for the jail project — violates city and state purchasing laws.” According to the story, Overstreet ruled that the city did not use a competitive bidding process to award the contract as required by state law for projects valued at over $100,000.

The DCCC also says that the International Anti-Corruption Resource Center considers a bid awarded to any other than the lowest qualified bidder to be a “red flag” for  “corruption” and “manipulation of bids.” But the DCCC doesn’t know that Allen’s company wasn’t the lowest bidder. The Chronicle article didn’t say that. It only said that the price of the bids carried little weight in the process used to award the contract.

Allen was originally awarded a contract for the first phase of the detention center project, in 2008, despite not being the lowest bidder. But that decision was reversed after McKnight Construction, which did make the lowest bid, challenged the Allen contract in court.

But even if Allen wasn’t the lowest bidder, that doesn’t necessarily mean the award process was corrupt. The IACRC says that awarding a contract to other than the lowest qualified bidder is “usually the result of corruption,” not always.

In addition, the DCCC noted that Rick Allen’s brother, Charles, sat on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, when that board awarded contracts to R.W. Allen to work on an animal control building and a health facility and conference room in 2010. But the DCCC’s own background material acknowledges that Charles Allen recused himself from the board’s vote on those projects (see page 135).

We can’t say whether any of R.W. Allen’s contacts were the result of “insider deals” or not, but neither can the DCCC.

Higher Taxes and Over Budget Projects

The same ad attacking Allen for “insider deals” also says that “Allen’s projects went over budget” and that “our taxes were raised to pay for 16 of Allen’s projects.”

The DCCC went on to make those claims the subject of a separate attack ad that began running on Aug. 25. It features Christy Morris, the owner of Round’s Pizza Seafood and More, saying that “Allen’s companies got nearly $200 million in government contracts and we got higher taxes to pay for them. And then they went over budget.”

It’s true that some of the projects that Allen’s companies worked on went over budget. The DCCC’s background document mentions five instances where R.W. Allen was awarded contracts to build Georgia elementary schools that ended up going over budget by almost $935,000, combined. But that amount is just about 3.5 percent of the combined total of the original contracts for the elementary schools. It’s also less than 1 percent of Allen’s $184 million in state contracts that is mentioned in both TV ads.

It’s also true that some of the contracts that Allen’s company received were paid for with money from Georgia’s special-purpose local-option sales tax. What the ad doesn’t say is that it is an optional county tax of 1 percent on items subject to the state sales tax that helps fund projects that benefit residents such as courthouses, jails, roads and bridges. More important, the tax can only be enacted by a local referendum approved by county residents, according to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

So, county residents voted to raise their own taxes to pay for the projects that Allen’s company worked on.

D’Angelo Gore