July 13, 2016 — There’s little doubt that Karen Mathiak is the candidate of Georgia’s chiropractors. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for ALL chiropractors in Georgia to have a voice at the capitol,” PAC chair Dr. Brad Pizza writes on the Georgia Council of Chiropractic’s website. Mathiak is treasurer of the Georgia Chiropractic Association’s PAC, and more than 80 percent of her campaign donations come from the profession.
Feb. 10, 2015 — A 2005 amendment to Georgia’s campaign finance law was meant to give smaller donors a break on filing public disclosures. A decade later, though, Senate Republicans applied the law to their own PAC, raising $276,000 over a 20-month period before disclosing even a penny of it.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that the law is so weak that $250,000-plus can be raised without being reported for so long,” said William Perry, executive director of the good-government advocacy group Common Cause Georgia. “This is a glaring example of how far we have to go in Georgia for fairer disclosure.”
Dec. 9, 2014 — A complaint against a political committee supporting Gov. Nathan Deal may be dismissed without investigation tomorrow by the state ethics commission. An attorney for Real PAC, founded by two longtime friends of Deal’s, contends it didn’t have to file financial disclosures for the $970,000 it raised and spent in Georgia, nor did it have to operate independently of the governor’s re-election committee.
A review of campaign filings and other public documents, however, suggests the issue is not so clear-cut.
Former Rep. David Lucas has kept much of his campaign spending off the radar over the years, moreso perhaps than any other Georgia legislator. Since 2010 his House campaign committee reported spending more than $78,000 — 46 percent of all disbursements — for unspecified purposes. Lucas has also kept some private business interests off the radar, including his wife’s consulting business and his role as an officer in the non-profit Bowden Men’s Golf Association, which has received payments from his campaign and from a political action committee that employs lobbyists at the Capitol. Lucas still hasn’t filed a disclosure for 2012.
Records show NewTown Macon Inc., a non-profit promoting development in downtown Macon, paid Lucas and his company $24,350 — an amount he has declined to disclose — to campaign for passage of a 1 percent local option sales tax in 2010. NewTown also played a role in a small land transaction that netted Lucas a $3,400 profit in 2008.
Sept. 26, 2013 — Real PAC, a political committee with close ties to Gov. Nathan Deal, has filed its first tax forms with the IRS, one of which was more than a year overdue. The filings raise new questions about the timing of large gifts from businesses seeking state contracts or legislation.
July 19, 2013 — A political committee run by close associates of Gov. Nathan Deal has pocketed at least $327,500 since 2012 without reporting it, apparently skirting disclosure rules and the federal tax code.
Major benefactors of the committee, Real PAC, include health-care interests seeking tens of millions — even billions — of dollars in business with state government. One donor, WellCare of Georgia, gave Real PAC $50,000 on the same day that state Medicaid officials said they planned to extend WellCare’s $1 billion-a-year contract for two years.
Jan. 14, 2013 — Trial lawyers, dentists and Realtors — perhaps Georgians’ three most-beloved professions — had the deepest pockets as state legislators convened today for 2013, an analysis of campaign disclosures shows. Between them, trade groups for those three professions donated more than $1.1 million to Georgia politicians and parties over the past two years.
Unraveling campaign finance and lobbyist spending reports can be difficult if you don’t know the lingo. Trade associations frequently create political action committees (PACs) with names that mask, intentionally or not, the special interests behind them. Others are known only by obscure acronyms; some use the same acronym. So, as we continue to shine a light on special interests’ influence in Georgia, we’ve compiled this quick guide to who’s who among the PACs
Sept. 4, 2012 — Glenn Richardson walked away from the Georgia Legislature with $220,000 in campaign funds to spend with little oversight. More than 2 1/2 years later, as he plans a run for the state Senate, he still hasn’t officially disclosed what he’s done with it. The former speaker of the House assures me, though, that he hasn’t taken a penny for himself. “I have received no checks from that,” said Richardson.
A citizens’ group today called out two committees pushing the July 31 transportation sales tax referendum for failing to disclose their donors. The group also named donors of at least $434,000 to the pro-tax effort. While we wait for those disclosures, I’ve found more than $800,000 more given to sell the sales-tax referendum.
Georgia law books are chock-full of statutes written to curtail undue influence on political activity and public policy. So utilities and insurance companies can’t give to a candidate seeking an office that regulates them. Legislators can’t take political donations while in session. Politicians can’t use campaign money for personal benefit. State workers can’t accept gifts from vendors or lobbyists.
Except when they can.
Time and again, Georgia journalists and watchdog groups have found that money finds a way to flow around those laws. These and similar findings underscore what can sometimes be a gaping divide between Georgia’s legal standards for public accountability, on the one hand, and everyday practice. In a new, state-by-state analysis of ethics and accountability practices, Georgia ranks 50th with a grade of F from the State Integrity Investigation.
Attorney General Sam Olens – who’s taking on a larger role in investigations of public officials, political action committees and lobbyists — has raised more than a third of his campaign money from public officials, PACs, lobbyists and their clients. Donors include parties in high-profile inquiries into possible misuse of campaign funds or receipt of improper contributions.“There is always a potential for a conflict,” acknowledged Josh Belinfante, vice chairman of the campaign finance commission, “but I don’t think … that means a conflict exists.”