$220K transfer to ex-speaker’s political fund may be illegal
By JIM WALLS
Jan. 8, 2010 — Georgia law may prohibit ex-House Speaker Glenn Richardson‘s recent transfer of leftover campaign cash to a political fund under his control.
On Dec. 31, a day before Richardson’s resignation took effect, he cleaned out his re-election campaign’s bank account with the transfer of $219,915 to the MMV Alliance Fund. The fund filed its 2010 registration on Dec. 30 naming Richardson as its new chairman.
One potential problem: MMV does not appear to be among the organizations that may legally accept unused campaign contributions. Under Georgia law, political campaigns may give excess funds to IRS-recognized charities; educational, philanthropic and non-profit organizations; other candidates; or political parties.
MMV, a political action committee created in 2004, is none of those. It is not registered as a corporation in Georgia, non-profit or otherwise; a spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State said late Thursday that the agency had received no request from MMV to register as a corporation. Nor does the committee show up in the IRS’s searchable database of tax-exempt groups.
Overseers of campaign finance laws agree that political action committees may only receive a candidate’s unused cash under limited circumstances. “Unless the PAC is a non-profit organization, any distribution of excess campaign funds is prohibited,” said Yasha Heidari, an attorney with the State Ethics Commission.
We’ve tried to contact Richardson for three days now to clarify MMV’s status. He received the messages, his paralegal said, but has not returned our calls. Neither has his law partner and campaign chairman, W. Thomas Cable; Matt Metcalf, the PAC’s previous chairman; GOP fund-raiser Laura Goss, who is MMV’s treasurer; or Marshall Guest, his former House spokesman.
Atlanta Unfiltered reported Tuesday that Georgia places no restrictions on how political action committees spend their money. If a PAC gives $25,000 or less to political campaigns in a year, the law does not require disclosure of those expenses.
PACs don’t even have to spend their money on politics. “[Richardson] could spend it on anything he wants to,” said Rick Thompson, former executive secretary of the Ethics Commission.
Gov. Sonny Perdue, barred by law from seeking a third term this year, did much the same as Richardson a few years ago, when he transferred a little over $787,000 from his campaign account to PerduePAC. A key difference: The governor registered PerduePAC as a non-profit corporation first.
Perdue had asked the Ethics Commission in early 2007 whether campaign money could be transferred to a non-profit with “PAC” in its name.
Fund-raising by PerduePAC has also raised questions. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in November that the PAC raised about $400,000 in 2008. Much of the money came from lobbyists and special interests, and some donations exceeded the amount that could have been given to the governor’s campaign account.
UPDATE: MMV filed a new disclosure Jan. 8 that shows it had a little over $250,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31.
FOOTNOTE: Gubernatorial candidate Eric Johnson emptied his State Senate campaign account last quarter with donations of $1,000 to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, founded by former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed; Georgia Conservatives in Action; and the Mediation Center of the Coastal Empire in Savannah. All are non-profits.