ATLANTA - A three month long I-Team investigation has raised questions about the cozy relationship between Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan and a state vendor with a contract worth some 14 million dollars.
The I-Team found Duncan negotiated the sale of his own health care app with a STATE health care vendor called Sharecare. Duncan's spokesperson told us the deal did not go through.
But, the business negotiations between the state vendor and the Lt. Governor came during a period in which the two shared a private jet flight, sports tickets, and a weeklong conference in Montana; none of which was reported in any way to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, commonly known as the state Ethics Commission.
The I-Team began its investigation last December, when Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan arrived at Hartsfield Jackson International airport. We were there with our camera when he arrived.
We had been told Duncan was in New York to meet with members of a state health care vendor called Sharecare. But tow months later, we caught up with theLt. Governor on the way to a health care conference and he didn't seem to remember much about the trip.
Reporter: You flew up in December of last year to meet with Sharecare in New York.
Duncan: Ahhh, I'll have to go back to look at the records of that.
Reporter: You don't remember flying to New York to meet with Sharecare?
Duncan: We've taken several trips to New York, I'll have to go back and look at the records.
He wasn't the only one whose memory of that trip seemed a little hazy.
"We have an office in New York, but I'm not aware of what that trip is," said Sharecare President Dawn Whaley.
Taxpayers pay Sharecare around fourteen million dollars a year to provide a digital healthcare platform to state employees. It's a way to manage their healthcare all in one place. The Sharecare co-founders are well-known Atlanta entrepreneur Jeff Arnold and heart surgeon and TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Why would Georgia's Lieutenant Governor be involved? The I-Team got a tip that Lt. Governor Duncan was trying to do business with Sharecare - specifically he was trying to sell a healthcare app concept to the state vendor. It seemed possible. Duncan has worked in healthcare. He is currently on the board of directors of another digital health care company - Wellview, according to their web site. Also, 10 days after his New York to Sharecare's office, he incorporated a new company called LifeGrab. His spokesperson says it is his health care app concept and Duncan is sole owner.
But when we first asked Lt. governor Duncan, he said there was no business relationship with Sharecare.
"I've been in the healthcare space a long time, I've been in the wellness space. I have no business relationship with Sharecare," said Duncan.
And Sharecare's President said, not there was only no deal, but there was no talk of a deal.
Whaley: I can assure you I'm the president of the company and we have no deal with Lt. Governor Duncan.
Reporter: And no negotiations?
Whaley: No negotiations.
Reporter: No talk about doing a deal?
Whaley: Not that I was involved with. No.
But two weeks later that no turned into a yes. Duncan's public relations specialist and private attorney called me to admit Lt. Governor Duncan did try to sell a healthcare app concept to Sharecare. They insist the deal didn't go through. They also claimed there was no conflict of interest because as head of the Senate, the Lt. Governo,r has no control over which vendors are selected by the state.
And hours before our report aired, that spokesperson called to recharacterize the negotiations. Now, saying they were just conversations between two feinds - the Lt. Governor and state vendor CEO Jeff Arnold. The spokeperson said Sharecare president, Dawn Whaley, was not part of the negotiations.
"You only hide things that you don't want people to know," says Professor Edward Queen. Queen is the director of the D. Abbott Turner Program in Ethics at Emory University’s Center for Ethics.
" You only hide things under most conditions that you suspect are inappropriate. If it had been completely above board and legal for the Lt. Governor to be engaged in these negotiations, why did they feel a need to hide it?" asked Queen.
But our three month long investigation raised more questions about the cozy relationship between Lt. Governor Duncan and Sharecare.
Sometimes, it was accepting a gift. Last October, Duncan and his family sat in these front row Hawks seats as guests of Sharecare. Vendor gifts and lobbying expenses are supposed to be reported to the State Ethics Commission. We found no such reports for the Hawks tickets.
The Lt. Governor Duncan's spokesman told me the Duncan’s sat in Sharecare's seats three times, but since Sharecare c0-founder Jeff Arnold isn't a registered lobbyist there was no need to report the gift. Duncan's spokesman also said the tickets were offered because of a "personal friendship" between Lt. governor and Sharecare CEO and the gifts had nothing to do with the Lt. Governor's "public sector role."
The spokesman said after we asked about the Hawks tickets, the Lt. Governor cut "a massive check" to Sharecare for the cost. The spokesperson said the Lt. Governor didn't need to do it, but wanted to avoid "appearance" of impropriety. We asked to see records documenting the repayment. They were never provided.
"I'm oposed to gifts as a rule, I'm definitely opposed to gifts that aren't reported and aren't made public," said Professor Queen.
Sometimes it was giving a gift.
Last October, Duncan flew Sharecare founder Jeff Arnold and Arnold's wife on this private jet to St. Louis for a fundraising event and a Braves playoff game. The flight was paid for by his campaign and an independent committee linked to him.
"It is at a minimum unseemly, and inappropriate," said Queen.
And, sometimes it was a trip.
Like a trip to the West Creek Ranch In Montana. 6,000 acres of primeval forest and pristine rivers.
Reporter: Who paid for the trip?
Duncan: Ahh, I think our team coordinated with the Governors and other folk around the state.
Reporter:You don't know who paid for it?
Duncan: We'll have to go back and look at the records.
Remember, Sharecare is a state vendor with a contract worth around 14 million dollars. They put on a 4 day health care conference called Accelerating Well Being in Georgia at the West Creek Ranch. The ranch is owned by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. The foundation spokespeople told me they donate the ranch to non-profits and businesses that inspire people to tackle challenging societal issues. The foundation donated the lodging, food, and on site activities for the week to Sharecare, as they believe outdoor activities stimulate ideas. Along with health care talks, there was also Horseback riding, Yoga, Golf, skeet shooting, and fly fishing.
Sharecare invited four state employees, plus the Lt. Governor and Governor Brian Kemp, who stayed one night. The taxpayers paid more than $5,500 for flights, meals, and a rental car for the Montana trip.
Duncan: Well, it was an incredible opportunity to meet with a number of people, including the Governor. It's just amazing to think about all of the innovations," Duncan told us.
Edward Queen says the conference itself may be appropriate, but he is troubled that the sponsor - Sharecare - is the same state vendor that seems so intertwined with the Lt. Governor.
"Most charitably, the guy is naive and unthinking. Much less charitably, this is an individual who has taken it upon himself to use the trappings of his office for private benefits," said Queen.
The day our report was to air, the Lt. Governor sent over a statement saying:
"I promised in my campaign that I would remain a citizen legislator with one foot in the private sector – just as previous lieutenant governors have done -- and hold myself to the highest ethical standards. Any business decision I make starts with an in-depth consultation with my legal team to ensure we stay well within the law. It’s unfortunate a disgruntled former aide is feeding the media a false narrative and trying to attack my character because I chose to support a U.S. Senator while he works for her opponent."