Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 4, 2012

“Liberty” is a lab/bassett mix who needs a foster home in order to live to see next July 4th. Visit Angels Among Us Rescue to donate for Liberty or email [email protected] to foster her.

MISSING DOG!

MacCallan is a black lab mix who wears a red collar and was lost last night when he jumped the fence at his home. He is mostly black with a white chest and friendly disposition and he answers to “Mac” or “Pig” and may be skittish around strangers. Last seen leaving the Candler Park MARTA station after apparently riding a train. Seriously. In addition to his owner’s gratitude, there may be a reward from MARTA for information leading to his arrest for fare-jumping.

If you see Mac or capture him, please call Will at 706-977-8947 or email him.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The grace period for the campaign disclosure report that is currently due ends Monday, July 9th, and yesterday we heard multiple reports that the State Ethics Campaign Finance Commission website was bogging down as people were logged in working on their campaign disclosure reports. One incumbent legislator reported that it took 90 minutes to get the system to accept a report showing two contributions.

“The backlog in the State’s filing system appears to be exclusively for ‘candidate’ filers as we are not experiencing the same difficulties filing ‘lobbyist’ reports,” says Rick Thompson the senior partner of R. Thompson & Associates a compliance reporting firm.

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“Don’t panic,” says Thompson, whose firm is responsible for filing a number of disclosure reports for candidate filers.

“There are 5-days left and I expect the Commission to get the issues resolved. As a candidate, your best course of action is to get started now. Document your filing efforts, including screen shots of the system and its delays, so in the event you do not file in time you have solid evidence to present in your appeal. You are going to have to be patient. Off peak hour filing is not making a difference. Our firm is experiencing many of the same challenges with reports we are submitting during the day as well as reports we are entering in the overnight hours.”

Additionally, it has been suggested that people having filing difficulties keep a log of the failures, and document their problems in a letter to the Commission and to the individual Commissioners.

What appears to have happened in the past is that the Commission has fined late filers and allowed those who received fines to ask the Commission to waive the fines if they had technical problems.

As recently as Wednesday, the fines ranged from $125 for council candidate Marianne Bramble to $2,750 for mayoral candidate Dick Smith. Buelterman, as well as council members Frank Schuman and Wanda Doyle, also faced fines of $1,375, according to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission’s website. Council member Kathryn Williams, who is not running for reelection, had been fined $2,750.

On Friday, all the fines had been reduced to $125.

That still did not sit right with Doyle, who said she made sure to file her reports by the deadline.

“I don’t even think I should have to pay the $125,” Doyle said.

Most of those who have been fined deny filing late and say the fines were levied in error. But the head of the state agency charged with regulating the reports says it is the candidates who fouled up.

Candidates throughout the state have experienced problems filing, said Amy Henderson, spokesperson for the Georgia Municipal Association. The issues are a result of state computer glitches, candidates having to learn a new process and the understaffed commission, Henderson said.

The commission is being overwhelmed by filers and the number of questions they are getting, Henderson said.

The candidates’ appeals will be submitted to the commission for consideration at their next meeting, for which a date has not yet been set, LaBerge said.

LaBerge could not be reached Friday to find out why the fines has been reduced.

If past experience is any guide, you will also have trouble getting in touch with the Commission by phone as the deadline approaches. If this is the case, record also the times you attempted to call, and the disposition of the call, whether it was a busy number, you left a message, or you spoke to someone. I’d call from my cell phone to create a record of your calls, and take screenshots from the phone showing the calls.

Getting fined by the Commission is only one of the problems a candidate faces when they’re unable to file. The second issue, highlighted by the above story, is negative press related to the Commission website showing that your filing is late.

If one of my clients faces this problem, here’s what I suggest: contact the local reporter(s) and editor(s) covering your race, explain that you’re currently working on filing your papers, but are having problems due to the Commission’s filing system. Offer to share with them screenshots showing the problem, or ask them if they want to come over and see how the system is (not) working while you’re trying to file. Be open and honest and keep them in the loop.

By getting out ahead of the story, you increase the chance that a story, if written, carries the headline “State computer system problems delay ethics filings” rather than “Candidate fined by Ethics Commission for missing reports.”  This is much easier done if you start talking to the reporters before the grace period deadline and establish that not only are there problems with the system, but that you didn’t wait to the last moment and then try to blame the Commission’s system. And obviously the first headline does less damage to your campaign than the second.

Today from 11:30 AM to 3 PM, the Cobb County Republican Party will hold a barbecue at Jim Miller Park, located at 2245 Callaway Rd SW in Marietta. Adult admission is $15 and kids’ admission is $5 each. Williamson Brothers will be providing barbecue. If you see me there, say hello. Click here to go to our Events Calendar listing that includes a Google Map. If you’re on an iPhone, you can then click on the map and it will take you to the iPhone maps app where you can get directions.

While you’re at the Cobb GOP Barbecue, you can expect to hear about Sheriff Neil Warren’s endorsement of Josh Belinfante in the Republican Primary for State Senate District 6. Belinfante’s press release read:

Sheriff Neil Warren urged fellow Cobb County citizens to join him in his support of Belinfante. He stated, “Josh is the best candidate for the job. I know Josh personally, and we need his leadership and expertise at the State Capitol for a strong and safe Cobb County. Please join me in supporting Josh for State Senate.”

Tomorrow, July 5th, Florida’s United State Senator Marco Rubio will be autographing copies of his book An American Son: A Memoir at NOON on July 5that the Books-A-Million at 5900 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville, GA 30043 [Click for a map].

A Commission appointed to advise Governor Deal on whether to remove Velvet Riggins from the Dougherty County School Board has recommended that Riggins be removed until the felony indictment against her has been resolved.

Riggins was indicted on April 25 by a Dougherty County grand jury on two counts of theft by taking, public record fraud and providing false information to obtain free school meals for a child.

The indictment stems from two 2011-12 free or reduced-cost school lunch applications filed for her children at Robert Cross Middle Magnet School and Lincoln Elementary Magnet School. Riggins is accused of falsifying information on the applications.

Riggins term on the school board expires Dec. 31, but she is running unopposed for a new four-year term in the November election.

Ends & Pieces

The Norfolk Southern has assembled its entire heritage locomotive fleet for “Family Portraits” at the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Among the locomotives are those painted in livery honoring the Southern Railway, Central of Georgia, and Savannah & Atlanta.

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