Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 16, 2012


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 16, 2012

“Belle” is a seven-year old black lab or lab mix who was somebody’s dog before she was surrendered to Walton County Animal Shelter. She comes vaccinated, de-wormed and flea sprayed. She’s double unlucky, as both black dogs and senior dogs aren’t highly adoptable. In my experience, senior dogs make great companions, and she’ll be grateful to you for the rest of her life.

A quick clarification

On Friday, I wrote:

Is there a problem with the Senate Republican Trust transferring that much money to a new entity that spends it to reelect members of Senate leadership? Apparently not.

“Georgia has some of the weakest PAC and independent committee laws in the country,” said Rick Thompson, managing partner of R. Thompson & Associates who spent five years as the Ethic Commission’s executive director.

“If we want to get serious about reform and transparency, we need to abandon the ridiculous $100 limits and ideas being pushed around this election cycle by special interest groups and focus on the reporting requirements of PACs and independent committees.”

Thompson, whose firm specializes in ethics and compliance consultation, said, “to truly be an expenditure of an independent committee, the candidate cannot have any coordination or control of the expenditure. Otherwise it is an in kind contribution.”

I failed to make clear that Thompson’s quote was a general statement on the laxity of PAC regulation in the state Act governing campaign finance, but was not meant to state a position on whether the transfer from the Senate Trust to the Promotion PAC was in compliance with the Act. It certainly did not state that Rick Thompson had said the transfer from the Senate Republican Trust to the Georgia Republican Senate Caucus Promotion PAC is okay. That statement was about the general lack of regulation of committee-to-committee transfers.

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There are really four ethics issues in the Promotion PAC expenditures. The first is whether the transfer of $140,000 from the Georgia Republican Senatorial Trust to the Promotion PAC is permissible. The second is whether the expenditures by the Promotion PAC in support of at least four incumbent state Senators are independent within the meaning of the Campaign Finance Act or were coordinated with the campaigns. Third is whether the lump sum payments to vendors without itemization by the Promotion PAC are properly reported. Fourth is whether the entire enterprise of the Promotion PAC is simply a sham to allow what would otherwise be contributions by the Trust in excess of the contribution limits.

So it’s a bit more complicated and it’s not likely to be sorted out by the Primary elections, or even the General Election in November. Under Georgia’s Campaign Finance Act, the worst that’s likely to happen is a bunch of fines might be issued.

Congressional candidate Wright McLeod continues to be dogged by questions about his disclosures.

McLeod says he has responded to a complaint by opponent Rick Allen to the Federal Elections Commission, but the FEC hasn’t confirmed receipt of the answer and McLeod won’t release it.

McLeod spokeswoman Holly Croft said the administrative process for complaints filed with the FEC “is not public information.”

But commission confidentiality rules make an exception for a response to a complaint.

“These provisions,” they say, “do not … prevent a complainant or respondent from disclosing the substance of the complaint itself or the response to that complaint or from engaging in conduct that leads to the publication of information contained in the complaint.”

Scott Paradise, Allen’s campaign manager, characterized McLeod’s refusal to release the response as that candidate’s “latest blatant cover-up.”

McLeod and his campaign have repeatedly failed to respond to questions about the complaint and related issues.

The FEC often takes 10 months or so to resolve complaints, so it’s unlikely to act on Allen’s before the July 31 primary.

Croft called it “baseless” and “politically motivated.” The response, she said, calls on the Allen campaign to “repay all fees and costs to the taxpayers associated with the case.”

Okay, so they’ll talk about parts of it in which they criticize their opponent for filing the complaint, but they won’t release the parts that actually address the complaint.

The Rick Allen campaign has also questioned large donations McLeod reportedly received from individuals.

Allen campaign manager Scott Paradiseraised
the possibility that listed donors may have been reimbursed for checks they wrote a campaign.

That practice, which is illegal, conceals the real source of the money and sometimes allows an end run around the $2,500 limit.

McLeod campaign manager Mike Allen said, to the best of his knowledge, none of McLeod’s campaign cash is from anyone other than those it listed as donors.

“Neither the campaign nor Wright McLeod has reimbursed any donor for their contributions,” Allen said.

“If we had direct knowledge that a donor’s contribution was made in an illegal manner, we would take appropriate action accordance with the FEC guidelines.”

But Allen said the campaign has “no direct knowledge that any of our contributions are anything other than honorable, valid and made by our supporters of their own accord.”

So far, there’s no proof to the contrary.

But some $2,500 donors are people of apparently limited means who had never before donated to a congressional campaign.

Two donors seemed to know little about McLeod’s views. Two gave on the same day after one of them said their boss, also a $2,500 donor, discussed the campaign with them.

One had voted only once. One wrote a check the same day her boss did. Others declined to be interviewed.

“I learned a long time ago that where there is smoke there is fire,” Paradise said, “and there is certainly a great deal of smoke surrounding Wright McLeod’s entire campaign.”

Savannah Morning News columnist Larry Peterson receives our “quote of the week” for his characterization of McLeod’s non-responses to ethics questions.

Political campaigns are adept at saying things without quite lying — or coming close to the truth.

The FEC often takes 10 months to act on complaints and keeps them under wraps until it does. So Allen’s likely will be in limbo long after the July 31 primary.

Perhaps with that in mind, Team McLeod alternates between stonewalling and denial.

Last week it tried both.

Meanwhile, McLeod spokeswoman Holly Croft noted the administrative process for complaints “is not public information.”

In other words: We can’t give you the response because the FEC won’t let us.

Nice try. Its rules explicitly say respondents to a complaint can release it.

Croft also said — yet again — that the complaint was “politically motivated” and “baseless.”

Politically motivated? Well, duh. Let’s stipulate that it is — and move on.

But baseless?

Replying to the FEC letter, Team McLeod in effect conceded two points in the complaint.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Speaking of the State Campaign Finance Commission, “Republican” candidate for PSC Matt Reid submitted two-day reports detailing two $1000 contributions from liberal fellow travelers.

One of Reid’s contributors is John Sweet, who served on Atlanta City Council from 1977-1981 and currently serves on the boards of Sevananda Natural Food Cooperative in Little Five Points and the Georgia ACLU. Sweet has a three page rap sheet contribution record with the Campaign Finance Commission that includes thousands of dollars to liberal Democrats like Roy Barnes, Democratic House Leader Stacey Abrams, and Democratic State Rep. Pat Gardner. The other contributor to Reed is Ralph Green, who has also given to other liberal Democrats like Joe Martin, Nan Orrock, and Simone Bell.

Republicans should reject Matt Reid’s attempt to infiltrate the GOP and send him packing in the Primary.

Republican credentials have also become an issue in the election for state Senate district 52.

A campaign mailer from David Doss stating that his opponent Chuck Hufstetler voted as a Democrat is the latest bone of contention between two Republican candidates for the state Senate District 52 seat.

Hufstetler came out swinging at the Bartow County GOP debate last week, claiming the “attack ad” is an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Doss was a Democrat until he switched parties in 2005.

“I did vote in some Democratic primaries,” Hufstetler said. “But the truth is, when there is no Republican opposition, we try to put the weakest Democrat in office.”

Doss said he wants to talk about issues, but he’s fighting back against Hufstetler’s focus on party identification. He said many older Republicans — like former governor Sonny Perdue and Gov. Nathan Deal — started out as Democrats.

“Like Zell Miller said, ‘I didn’t leave the party. The party left me,’” Doss said. “I’ve always been a conservative.”

Herman Cain recorded a robocall for Congressional candidate and fellow talk radio conservative Martha Zoller.

“You see the establishment is scared of Martha Zoller, and they should be,” says Cain in a new robo-call for Zoller. “It showed today from her opponent, Doug Collins, who launched a false, negative attack against her. Apparently, they think we are stupid.”

Last week, Collins released a scathing new mailer about Zoller’s past statements on abortion, taxes and gay marriage. The mailer quotes Zoller saying “It [Abortion] should not be outlawed,” “…taxes are relatively low in the United States,” and “I do support civil unions.”

Both candidates set up websites solely devoted to uncovering the other candidates “lies;” Zoller’s site is and Collins’ response to it is – full of video clips of Zoller’s comments about some of the most controversial political issues.

Columbus Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop first ran for the office some twenty years ago because she was dissatisfied with the level of service a friend received. In her campaign for a sixth term, she faces a former employee who says she is dissatisfied with the way the office is run.

Creighton Bishop faces a primary challenge this month from Sherrell Dowdell-Mahone, a candidate who says she got a behind-the-scenes look at everything that’s wrong with the office while working there for nearly five months. Not surprisingly, the rivals gave vastly divergent accounts of Dowdell-Mahone’s departure from the office last August, underscoring the mounting tension of the campaign.

Accusations are flying back and forth in the race.

“I think because my opponent had gone to law school she thought that she could exhibit those skills in here, and when she was told she could not and cited for attempting to do that she decided — rather than take a reprimand — that she would leave the office,” Creighton Bishop said. “We can’t give legal advice.”

Dowdell-Mahone, 47, said she wasn’t cited or reprimanded in any fashion and left because she wasn’t pleased with the services provided by the office or its “hostile” environment. She denied giving legal advice and said the incumbent was spreading misinformation out of desperation.

“Mrs. Bishop’s 20-year tenure has just been riddled with one scandal after another, and I kind of just want to let the citizens know what new, innovative leadership I would bring to the court,” she said. “I did not leave for giving out any legal advice. I’m not a licensed attorney, so I knew better than that.”

In interviews last week, the candidates also disagreed over who is more qualified for the job.

“I’m the only qualified candidate here,” said Creighton Bishop, who worked as an administrator at Jack T. Rutledge Correctional Institute before unseating Ellen Pilgreen in 1992. “There’s no school you can attend for this. It definitely takes you being here and learning.”

Dowdell-Mahone countered that she has more than a decade of experience working closely on small claims cases in her twin brother’s law office. Not only does she have a law degree from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, she said, but she also earned a master’s degree in litigation from Atlanta Law School.

Dowdell-Mahone has not passed the bar and is not a licensed attorney.

Muscogee County Sheriff John T. Darr also faces a primary challenge from a former department employee.

Squaring off against Darr this month is Pam Brown, a former Sheriff’s Office lieutenant backed by former Sheriff Ralph B. Johnson. Brown hopes to make history not only by making Darr the first one-termer in recent memory, but also by becoming Muscogee County’s first female and first black sheriff.

The fact that many local offices will be decided in Democratic primaries is causing some Muscogee County voters angst.

It stems from several critical county posts being determined in the Democratic primary, leaving Republicans without a say in the marshal, Superior Court clerk, Municipal Court clerk and Municipal Court judge races. Sheriff John Darr is also in a contested primary race, though there will be Republican opposition in November.

“A lot of people are used to voting for a certain party,” Boren said. “Then they get the ballot and realize that they can’t vote in the marshal’s race or the Superior Court clerk’s race.”

This confusion is causing additional work for elections officials when someone asks for another ballot.

“If it is an absentee ballot, we will cancel the original and then reissue the other one,” Boren said.

In Augusta, a dead dog received a voter registration form from the NAACP.

McGregor, a West Highland terrier, died about two years ago, but there his name and address were on an envelope containing voter registration documents partially filled out and a hand printed note to “Please fill in boxes 4, 5, and 6.”

Box 4 had spaces for phone number, date of birth, gender and race. Box 5 had spaces for driver’s license or Georgia ID number, and Social Security number. Box 6 had spaces to check “yes” or “no” for citizenship and whether McGregor would be 18 before Election Day; spaces to date and sign an oath affirming his address, eligibility, and that McGregor has not been convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude or is not mentally incompetent.

Walter Jones discusses Republican Primary ballot questions, which include lobbyist regulation, casino gambling, gun permits for younger service members, and a Right to Life question. A separate piece by Jones discusses questions on the Democratic ballot.

Errin Haines, writing for the AP, also reviews the ballot questions:

On the abortion issue, Republican primary voters will be asked whether they would support a “right to life” amendment to the state Constitution.

Everhart said members of the party asked for it.

“There was no discussion whatsoever,” she said. “They wanted it. The faith-based community really wanted it on there. I got more emails on that one and ethics than any of the other ones.”

The Columbia County Board of Elections will meet Tuesday at 10 AM in the Board of Commissioners‘ office on the second floor of Building B in the government center in Evans, to discuss alleged violations by a County Commission candidate.

The campaign for Richmond County Sheriff continues to center on a purported local endorsement that was disavowed by the national organization.

When a group of black police officers who had endorsed sheriff’s Capt. Scott Peebles as their candidate for Richmond County sheriff were forced to retract that endorsement by the organization they purported to represent, some saw it as an unfortunate mix-up.

Others saw it as dirty pool.

“I said it was a lie,” said sheriff’s Lt. John Ivey, a rival candidate. “That’s what it was.”

Whether a mix-up or something sinister, it’s a sign the sheriff’s race is heating up, candidates say.

“I believe that some camps are going to do what­ever is necessary to win,” Ivey said.

Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Charles Mikell will retire from the bench effective August 31st.

The Princeton-educated Mikell, a Fulbright Scholar, began his practice in Savannah in 1976 after graduating with honors from the University of Georgia law school.

He was appointed to a state court judgeship in 1984 to succeed Judge James W. Head, then won a superior court judgeship in 1992 to succeed Judge Eugene H. Gadsden. He was appointed to the court of appeals by Gov. Roy Barnes in May 2000.

The City of Lake Park will elect a new Mayor and Council Member on November 6th after the resignation of Mayor Ben Futch.

Marietta City Council member Anthony Coleman, who pled guilty to assaulting another council member has a further history of violent workplace altercations.

Governor Deal signed an executive order suspending Dougherty County Board of Education member Velvet Riggins, who is under indictment.

Riggins was indicted in April on four felony counts — two counts of theft by taking, one count of public record fraud and one count of providing false information to obtain free school meals for a child.

Dr. Bernice Brooks, who was disqualified in her campaign for re-election to the Carroll County School Board, has appealed the decision.

 Brooks was disqualified in a special hearing Tuesday after it was discovered her house is in a different district than the district she was running to represent. While the majority of Brooks’ Villa Rica property can be found in District 1, her home and street address are actually in District 3 because of a technical error.

A sign thief in Fayette County has been caught on camera.

[Board of Education candidate] Barry Marchman provided the video to The Citizen which shows what appears to be a bespectacled white male pulling the sign up from the ground. While the video quality is not high-definition by any means, it provides enough detail to likely identify the culprit.

The video was captured by a video camera designed to capture wildlife which is often referred to as a “game cam.”

Marchman is running against fellow Post 1 candidate Scott Hollowell to fill a four year-term as one of five members on the Fayette County Board of Education.

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