The week after DeKalb District Attorney investigators seized stacks of boxes and computers from Burrell Ellis’ home and office looking for county contracts and campaign records, Ellis, who was county CEO, gave nearly $30,000 back to campaign donors.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to the 23 individual and business donors who got those January refunds. Five of them spoke to the AJC and said the returned checks came with a campaign letter notifying them they had exceeded the $2,500 donation cap. State law restricts donors from exceeding that cap over the course of an election cycle.
“It’s not hugely unusual they would discover that right after a reporting period,” said Bruce Bowers, who served as DeKalb County’s state lobbyist through last summer and had a $500 donation returned. “At one time or another, other campaigns have to send money back.”
None of the donors who were sent refunds on Jan. 15 are named in the Jan. 7 search warrants or in the 15-count indictment that charged Ellis with theft, conspiracy and extortion in June.
Ellis did not respond to requests for comment. A review of state campaign records shows Ellis has returned money before, four times since 2011. But the $4,250 total of those refunds pales in size and scope to the $28,000 returned in January, in amounts that ranged from $500 to $3,500.