Bert Lance: Banker who joined Jimmy Carter's 'Georgia mafia'

 

Bert Lance was a genial Georgia banker who became President Jimmy Carter's budget director, only to be forced out after less than a year. Lance, who called himself a "country banker," was one of the more colourful members of the "Georgia mafia" that arrived in Washington after Carter was elected in 1976. He had been part of Carter's inner circle since the 1960s and had reportedly been the first person to recommend that Carter run for president. He was rewarded with the plum post of director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The affable Lance, who had been a fund-raiser for Carter's 1970 gubernatorial campaign, made an immediate impression on buttoned-up Washington and was credited with popularising the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." He became one of Carter's closest advisers, but concerns about his personal finances arose. He was called a "country slicker" in the press and was said to shuffle money around like a blackjack dealer.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee grilled Lance over allegations that he had misused bank funds, obtained loans at favourable rates and used a company plane to fly to University of Georgia football games. People in his home town of Calhoun rallied, waving signs that read, "Don't Treat Bert Like Dirt." Several senators called for him to resign, though, which he did in September 1977.

Lance went back to Georgia, where he was arraigned on federal charges that could have sent him to prison for 95 years for conspiracy, fraud and assorted violations of banking laws. He was acquitted of nine of the 12 charges. The other three were later dropped.

Before his downfall, Lance had been expected to run for governor of Georgia and was said to have been on a shortlist of vice presidential candidates. He went on to chair the Georgia Democratic Party and briefly directed the campaign of Democratic nominee Walter Mondale in 1984.

He was investigated by a federal grand jury and the Securities and Exchange Commission and resigned as chairman of his small-town bank in 1986 after being charged with "unsafe and unsound" banking practices and misappropriation of funds. He was fined $50,000 and barred from working at a bank. Over the years, he was investigated by eight federal bodies but was never convicted of a crime. He later worked as a consultant and remained friendly with Carter.

Thomas Bertram Lance, banker: born Gainesville or Young Harris, Georgia 3 June 1931; married LaBelle David (three sons, and one son deceased); died Calhoun, Georgia 15 August 2013.

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