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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State address on the House floor of the state Capitol, Jan. 25, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP) Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State address on the House floor of the state Capitol, Jan. 25, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State address on the House floor of the state Capitol, Jan. 25, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP)

Sara Swann
By Sara Swann August 31, 2023

Why Travis Tritt’s claim about Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s finances and Dominion is False

If Your Time is short

  • In 2017, Brian Kemp reported a net worth of $5.2 million, according to his publicly available personal financial disclosure reports. A positive net worth means Kemp was not "in debt" as country singer Travis Tritt claimed.

  • By 2021, Kemp’s net worth had increased by about $3.4 million and he had paid off most of his liabilities. But there’s no evidence he achieved this thanks to Georgia’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems.

  • The process to select Dominion as Georgia’s new voting machine vendor in 2019 was led by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, not Kemp.

After Donald Trump was indicted in Georgia for efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state, country singer Travis Tritt defended the former president in an attack on Georgia’s governor.

When Republican Gov. Brian Kemp reiterated on social media that the 2020 election in Georgia was "not stolen," Tritt, a Georgia native, responded by accusing Kemp of using the state’s election system for his own personal gain.

"I have confidential sources in Georgia who’ve told me that Brian Kemp was over $7 million in debt when he was elected as Georgia’s governor in 2018. In 2019, Kemp cut a deal with the state of Georgia to select Dominion Voting Systems to provide its new statewide voting system beginning in 2020," Tritt posted on Truth Social. "My sources tell me that Kemp has never been in debt since that deal was done. Connect the dots."

As a statewide politician, Kemp has been required for years to publicly disclose his finances — including his assets and liabilities.

This claim has been widely shared on X, formerly Twitter. But Tritt mischaracterizes Kemp’s finances and ignores that Kemp’s successor, not Kemp, oversaw Dominion’s selection as Georgia’s voting equipment manufacturer. Tritt did not respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment.

Kemp served as Georgia’s secretary of state for eight years before running for governor in 2018 and narrowly defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams. Kemp was reelected governor in 2022.

Kemp’s personal finances

All candidates for public office in Georgia must file annual personal financial disclosure reports, and campaign finance reports, with the state’s Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. Candidates for statewide positions must disclose additional information about their personal finances before elections.

In 2017, Kemp reported about $11.5 million in assets and about $6.3 million in liabilities, giving him a net worth of $5.2 million, according to his disclosure report.

So, Tritt’s claim that Kemp was "over $7 million in debt" is inaccurate.

If Kemp’s liabilities had outweighed his assets, he would have reported a negative net worth, signaling he was in debt.

The bulk of Kemp’s liabilities in 2017 came from about $4 million in real estate mortgages and $2.2 million in "notes payable to others." This consisted of $1 million for farm equipment and $1.2 million in loans to Hart AgStrong, a struggling agricultural company Kemp partly owned. (State inspectors discovered in 2011 discrepancies in AgStrong’s inventory and five years later, two fires broke out at the company.)

Kemp’s disclosure report also shows he had guaranteed $9 million more in loans to AgStrong — about twice his net worth — in the event the company defaulted. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that AgStrong’s equipment and property covered most of these loans as collateral, and Kemp was not the only investor who promised to pay if the company couldn’t.

Kemp’s investments in AgStrong spurred trouble for him during the 2018 gubernatorial race. Local businessman Rick Phillips sued Kemp in 2017, claiming he had failed to repay a $500,000 loan. Kemp settled the lawsuit days before he took office in January 2019. AgStrong was sold to Perdue AgriBusiness months later for an undisclosed price.

By 2021, the next year the state required Kemp to file extensive personal financial disclosures, Kemp had divested from AgStrong and paid off most of his liabilities. He reported more than $8.7 million in assets and $180,000 owed for real estate mortgages, making his net worth just under $8.6 million.

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But there’s no record that Kemp cleared his debts through a deal with Dominion Voting Systems. The voting equipment company is not mentioned in Kemp’s financial disclosure reports and the vendor selection process that resulted in Dominion’s hiring was overseen by Kemp’s successor in the secretary of state office, not Kemp.

Georgia doesn’t require statewide officials, such as Kemp, to report assets or liabilities during nonelection years, so Kemp’s personal financial disclosure reports for 2018, 2019 and 2020 do not include this information. A Kemp spokesperson declined to comment for this fact-check, but pointed us to Kemp’s public financial disclosures.

Georgia’s switch to Dominion Voting Systems

Beginning in 2017, critics of Georgia’s voting machines launched a legal challenge that raised concerns about Georgia’s election integrity. The concerns prompted state officials to start working to replace its outdated direct-recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines.

In 2018, as secretary of state, Kemp formed a committee to evaluate alternative voting machine options and make recommendations to the Georgia General Assembly. The committee recommended no specific voting equipment vendors.

The next year, lawmakers approved House Bill 316, which required the state to move to electronic ballot-marking devices that print a paper record. Kemp, then in his first year as governor, signed the bill into law.

Brad Raffensperger, who succeeded Kemp as secretary of state, started in March 2019 the search for a new vendor for the state’s voting equipment. About four months later, after multiple companies submitted bids and were evaluated by government officials, Raffensperger announced Dominion Voting Systems would be the new vendor.

Georgia paid Dominion $138 million to supply the state with 30,000 new voting machines before the March 2020 primary election. This contract also covered installation and maintenance costs.

A Dominion spokesperson told PolitiFact that any claims about a business or financial relationship between the company and Kemp are "completely false."

Mike Hassinger, Raffensperger’s spokesperson, said Kemp had "zero role" in selecting Dominion as the new vendor. The secretary of state’s office developed the scoring rubric used to evaluate the voting machine companies’ proposals.

"There are a lot of crazy conspiracy theories that ‘go viral’ because they contain a nugget of truth coupled with wild exaggerations. Tritt’s statement is not even that, but merely a sad lie created from whole cloth by a celebrity unburdened by facts," Hassinger said.

 
Our ruling

Tritt claimed "Brian Kemp was over $7 million in debt when he was elected as Georgia’s governor in 2018. In 2019, Kemp cut a deal with the state of Georgia to select Dominion Voting Systems to provide its new statewide voting system beginning in 2020. … Kemp has never been in debt since."

There are no public records detailing Kemp’s assets and liabilities in 2018, per Georgia law. The year before, Kemp reported $6.3 million in liabilities, which was mostly from real estate mortgages. But he also reported about $11.5 million in assets. Since Kemp’s assets outweighed his liabilities that year, he was not "in debt."

In 2021, Kemp paid off most of his liabilities.

Still, Kemp was not involved in selecting Dominion as Georgia’s new voting machine vendor. As the state’s top election official, Raffensperger led that process.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Email exchange with Mike Hassinger, spokesperson for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Aug. 22, 2023

Email exchange with spokesperson for Dominion Voting Systems, Aug. 22, 2023

Email exchange with Garrison Douglas, press secretary for Gov. Brian Kemp, Aug. 22, 2023

Interview with Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel of ethics for Campaign Legal Center, Aug. 24, 2023

Email exchange with Suhas Sridharan, associate professor of accounting at Emory University, Aug. 28, 2023

Travis Tritt, Truth Social post (archived version), Aug. 16, 2023

Travis Tritt, Truth Social post (archived version), Aug. 16, 2023

Brian Kemp, X post, Aug. 15, 2023

Donald Trump, Truth Social post, Aug. 15, 2023

X post, Aug. 20, 2023

X post, Aug. 20, 2023

Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, "Brian Kemp personal financial disclosures, 2005-2020," accessed Aug. 25, 2023

Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, "Brian Kemp personal financial disclosures, 2021-2022," accessed Aug. 25, 2023

Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, "Personal Financial Disclosure Schedule," accessed Aug. 25, 2023

Georgia General Assembly, House Bill 316, April 2, 2019

Georgia Secretary of State, "Security-Focused Tech Company, Dominion Voting to Implement new Verified Paper Ballot System," July 29, 2019

Georgia Procurement Registry, "Statewide voting system bid information," April 18, 2019

Georgia State University Law Review, "HB 316 - Voting System," Dec. 1, 2019

Georgia Secretary of State, "SAFE Commission Recommendations," Jan. 10, 2019

Georgia Public Broadcasting, "Georgia Awards New Voting Machine Contract To Dominion Voting Systems," July 29, 2019

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Georgia receives bids for $150 million voting system," April 24, 2019

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Georgia buys new voting machines for 2020 presidential election," July 30, 2019

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "At company Brian Kemp backed, unpaid debt and possible 'felony'," Oct. 3, 2018

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Georgia Ad Watch: Democrats slam Kemp over $500k loan," Oct. 1, 2018

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Brian Kemp settles lawsuit over bad loan in company he backed," Jan. 23, 2019

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Ag giant acquires Kemp-backed company at center of legal dispute," Dec. 11, 2019

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Kemp’s net worth grew by more than $3M since he took office," March 17, 2022

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Why Travis Tritt’s claim about Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s finances and Dominion is False

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