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Sen. Mullis’ campaign disclosures short by $165K, include $107K in mystery spending
By JIM WALLS
Feb. 22, 2016 — For most of Jeff Mullis’s 15 years in the Georgia Senate, the cash balance in his campaign account has been anybody’s guess.
Since 2010, Atlanta Unfiltered has found, accounting errors in Mullis’ campaign disclosures have lowballed his cash on hand by more than $165,000. Those discrepancies came on top of inaccuracies in earlier disclosures that misreported tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket spending as cash.
The upshot: Mullis’ disclosures have not accurately reported the size of his campaign’s bank account since 2002.
There’s no indication that the errors were intentional. Nevertheless, left uncorrected, the inaccuracies would allow the campaign to spend its disclosed balance of about $128,000 and — even though its actual balance appears to be more than twice as much — tell state officials that the account was closed.
Through an aide, Mullis said Jan. 27 he was looking into the discrepancies and believed they were clerical errors.
Nine days later, Mullis filed another incorrect disclosure that increased the shortfall in his campaign’s reported balance by $37,000.
Mullis has not responded to subsequent requests for comment.
By law, political candidates in Georgia must report the cumulative total of their donations and expenses on every disclosure during an election cycle. Once the cycle ends after the general election, leftover cash must be reported as the beginning balance of the next cycle.
Seven times since June 2010, though, Mullis has carried over incorrect amounts — sometimes donations, sometimes spending, sometimes both. Each time, the error reduced his reported cash on hand.
To begin 2015, for example, Mullis carried forward prior donations and expenses that would have left the campaign with about $60,000 in the bank. But his latest disclosure, for the period starting in July 2015, Mullis carried over the same totals for his starting balance, ignoring the money he had raised and spent in the six months in between.
Before June 2010, with one exception, Mullis’ disclosures carried over the proper amounts, our review of campaign filings shows.
But other inaccuracies regarding out-of-pocket spending from 2002 to 2010 created a discrepancy of as much as $107,000 in Mullis’ reported cash contributions.
From 1998 to 2000, Mullis reported those expenses as in-kind expenditures, sometimes with details of how he’d spent the money. They were carried forward from one disclosure to the next as in-kind loans.
Starting in 2002, though, the senator reported those types of expenditures as cash loans, almost always in specific amounts such as $7,801.48 and $10,232.78. Those “loans” — totaling $106,919 — were included in the column for cash contributions, inflating those totals proportionately.
In a 2015 interview, Mullis told me that most and perhaps all of those loans were actually out-of-pocket expenses. The precise amount cannot be determined because some of the loans might have included both cash and in-kind spending.
By 2014, Mullis’ campaign reported that it had paid back most of what it owed him. The senator never reported details of those expenses, though, so he was able to spend the money without disclosing who he paid or for what, as required by state law.
Mullis last reported his in-kind spending as cash loans in June 2010, two months after an ethics complaint alleged his Senate colleague Judson Hill had reported in-kind contributions similarly, in violation of Georgia law.
The ethics complaint noted that Hill’s disclosures reported he had loaned the campaign more than $56,000 over four years, often repaying himself within a few days. All of the reported loans came when the campaign had at least $65,000 in the bank.
“In this case the Respondent has violated the ethical requirements of the state of Georgia by attempting to hide the manner in which he is spending his campaign funds,” complainant Judson Knighton wrote. “If this practice is allowed, candidates could simply loan themselves the money needed to finance their campaign to finance their campaigns and report all expenditures as ‘loan reimbursements.’ Such a practice is not in keeping with the spirit or letter of Georgia law and should not be tolerated.”
At the time, Hill dissed the complaint, describing it to the Marietta Daily Journal as “a typical political smear tactic.”
How campaigns should report cash balances
Georgia law calls for candidates and elected officials to report a running total of donations and spending on every disclosure for an election cycle. The summary page instructs candidates how to carry forward contributions from the previous report:
- Carry over line 15 (cash on hand, which is the net of donations minus expenses) if it’s the first report of an election cycle.
- Carry over line 6 (total contributions for the current cycle) on all other reports.
How Mullis reported cash balances
Mullis generally followed those instructions — until June 2010. On that report, he carried over line 15 (cash on hand) rather than line 6 for his total contributions, thereby eliminating nearly $15,000 from his donations. He did the same thing in reports filed for September 2010 and December 2011 and June 2015, omitting another $77,000-plus from his donations.
- In June 2011, Mullis entered -0- for previous donations even though he’d disclosed a net balance of $21,839 earlier.
- For January 2015, he carried over cash on hand from a report that he had already amended to show an additional $2,500 in the bank.
- For January 2016, Mullis’ most recent filing, he carried over total donations and expenses not from his previous report but from two reports before that, losing $37,000 in unspent donations in the process.