In an online article Wednesday, Forbes magazine reported that Gov. Bill Haslam has a net worth of $2 billion and is “now the richest elected official in America” — in substantial part because of recently falling gas prices.
A spokesman for the governor, who has always refused to publicly disclose information on his financial resources, declined to either confirm or deny the Forbes figures.
“We’re not sure where Forbes got their numbers. We don’t discuss his personal finances. Tennesseans are more interested in the work he’s doing as governor,” said spokesman David Smith in an email.
“An heir to truck stop chain Pilot Flying J, Haslam has seen his net worth more than double since August–from $980 million to an estimated $2 billion–thanks to cheaper gas. He’s now the richest elected official in America,” says the Forbes article.
“Cheap unleaded means more people filling up–and a greater chance for gas stations and truck stops to profit off fuel, plus ancillary goods and services. ‘In a declining fuel market, these operators do much better,’ says John R. Lawrence, managing director at investment bank Stephens.
“Pilot Flying J’s trailing 12-month operating income has grown from $1.1 billion in August to $1.4 billion, according to the company. That means fatter coffers for Haslam, a Republican, who owns 15% of the $38 billion (sales) roadside giant, which his father founded in 1958,” the article says.
Forbes annually does a list of the 400 richest Americans and the governor’s brother, Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam, has made that list in recent years. In 2013, Jimmy Haslam’s net worth was pegged at $1.45 billion, putting him at No. 369. In Wednesday’s article, Forbes estimated Jimmy Haslam’s current net worth at $2.9 billion.
Bill Haslam had not been previously listed among Forbes’ richest Americans, though Wednesday’s article raises the possibility he will do so in the next listing based on figures at the end of 2014.
During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Democratic nominee Mike McWherter depicted Haslam in TV ads and otherwise as “an oil billionaire.” Haslam denied being a billionaire — “far from it,” he declared at one point.
But Haslam has always refused to provide details, saying the amount of his earnings is not relevant to his duties as governor so long as the sources are publicly known. During the 2010 campaign, Haslam released a summary of federal income tax payments – not the actual returns, though major gubernatorial candidates in the past had traditionally done so — along some other financial information indicating about $3 million in income during 2009 from investments other than Pilot.
He declined then to state the amount of earnings from Pilot, saying that could indirectly disclose the private financial standing of other family members who are not public figures. Since taking office in 2011 after winning 65 percent of the statewide vote against McWherter in the November 2010 election, Haslam has declined to even provide a summary of his income. He does annually file a disclosure with the Tennessee Ethics Commission, as required by state law, listing sources of income without the amount of that income.
The governor has placed all of his financial holdings – with the exception of those involving Pilot Flying J – into a blind trust, meaning they are handled by a trustee without Haslam actually knowing what the investments are.
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