The ‘independent’ effort to protect state Senate Republicans

Last week, Charlie Harper over at PeachPundit delved into the Georgia Republican Senate Caucus Promotion PAC, which is not a political action committee, but an independent political committee subject to the state’s transparency laws – which have not been met.

Harper reported that the promotion group has spent thousands of dollars sending direct mail into exurban areas of metro Atlanta on behalf of several state senators with Republican primary challengers: Majority Leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock, Bill Heath of Bremen, and Jack Murphy of Cumming. Wrote Harper:

Michael Luethy, a North Carolina political consultant is registered as the agent for the PAC, using a UPS Mailbox store address in Grayson Georgia as the address of the PAC. Luthy’s name is the full extent of “transparency” that these Senate incumbents have chose to express over these mailpieces.

On Friday, three Republican senate leaders – Rogers, Bill Cowsert of Athens, and Greg Goggans of Douglas – sent out an email with an explanation:

Senators,

I hope everyone is having a great summer.

Last September at Barnsley Gardens, the Caucus unanimously agreed to use Senate Republican Trust resources to assist our caucus members who received primary opposition. In the past we have used the Trust to fund our incumbent protection program by making contributions to the State GOP, which would then send mail pieces on behalf of our members facing opposition in the General Election. The State Party is hesitant to engage in Republican Primary contests. Therefore, we have elected to utilize an independent entity to assist in the defense of our caucus members facing primaries.

The decision was made to accept a proposal from a highly experienced political consultant outside the state to protect our fellow Senators.

His name is Michael Luethy. He is the former political director for the RSLC, the national committee that assists state legislative caucuses. He has run programs like this all over the country to build and protect Republican majorities. He is based in North Carolina and is highly regarded by legislative leaders across the country. His mission was to help any and all caucus members who received primary opposition.

We gave him a block grant of funding to his independent committee and trusted him to maximize those dollars to help our incumbents. We provided him with of legislative accomplishments from the past 2 years and the names of Caucus members facing primary opposition. We have had no further contact with him as this is an independent group and we are not allowed to coordinate efforts with him. He has not coordinated with any Senator or campaign committees in any way on this project.

Going the route of funding an independent committee was the only legal mechanism available to use to protect our incumbents. This is completely legal and does not violate any finance campaign laws.

Please read the comments from Rick Thompson, former head of the State Ethics Commission on the GaPundit.com blog if you would like confirmation of this.

This kind of effort is exactly what our Trust is for and we should be even more aggressive in the future to protect any and all members of our caucus.

If asked by the media, this is the prepared response we will provide.

“The Georgia Republican Senate Caucus supports and protects our fellow members. With no direct manner to individually support our members, we have supported an independent campaign committee created by Michael Luethy. Michael has a long track record in Republican politics that we trust. He set up this Committee to help protect our Republican Senate colleagues. We have every reason to trust he will do all that is possible to protect and support our Caucus members during any challenge to re-election. No caucus member has coordinated efforts in any way with Michael or his committee.”

Additionally, if you have not reached out to your fellow caucus members that have opposition, I am sure they would appreciate any support you can give them. Below is a list of caucus members with opposition and their mailing address if you would like to contribute to their campaign. Despite our occasional differences, membership in our caucus is special and important. Our unity is our strength and we should support each other in our times of need. I hope you will join me in supporting our colleagues.

[The letter names senators Don Balfour of Snellville, Cecil Staton of Macon, Rogers, Johnny Grant of Milledgeville, Murphy, Heath, and Frank Ginn of Danielsville.]

If you have any further questions or if we can help you with anything please reach out to us.

Sincerely,

Bill, Chip & Greg

You’ll note that the letter is worded less for senators and more for members of what once was called the state ethics commission. One GOP strategist we’ve talked to noted that positive mail flyers from the campaigns of Rogers, Heath and Murphy have been awfully scarce. That gap has been instinctively filled by this independent group, which has in no way been in any contact whatsoever with these lawmakers.

Except for giving this fellow a check, assigning the targets, and supplying the message, I mean. Because that would be wrong.

Here’s a definition offered up by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission:

An Independent Committee is one that makes “independent expenditures”. An independent expenditure is an expenditure for a communication which expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, but which is made independently of any candidate’s campaign. An expenditure is “independent” only if it meets certain conditions; It cannot be made with the cooperation or consent of, or in consultation with, or at the request or suggestion of any candidate or any of his or her agents or authorized committees. An expenditure which does not meet the above criteria for independence is considered a contribution which is subject to limits.

One complaint has already been filed with the ethics commission. I think we can expect more.

One more note: About that endorsement from ethics expert Rick Thompson mentioned in the senators’ email. Todd Rehm of GeorgiaPundit.com this morning wrote this:

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.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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49 comments Add your comment

Debbie Dooley

July 16th, 2012
11:38 am

These guys are snakes. The Goog Ole Boys. Vote every one of them out!

Buckhead

July 16th, 2012
11:46 am

This email is great, all the evidence anyone would need to file and win an ethics complaint. Chip totally contradicts himself.

When the Senate Leadership gives “block grant” money to a political consultant to fund their “incumbent protection program” tell then districts and talking points. How can anyone not say with a straight face this is not collaboration.

GaBlue

July 16th, 2012
11:51 am

If truth, ethics, transparency, and accountability in your government are NOT important to you, please continue voting for Georgia GOP candidates.

oppo

July 16th, 2012
11:52 am

Sounds like a bunch of whining by a bunch of losing candidates. aaaaarrrrgghhhh, it’s not fair. The incumbent has more support than me.

Incumbents protecting incumbents. in related news, the sun came up today and the sky is blue.

Snafu

July 16th, 2012
11:53 am

And the people of Georgia will continue to vote for these snake oil salesman regardless of how crooked they are and regardless of how they will spend money outside of the state rather than inside. They are only looking to continue lining their pockets at the expense of the ignorant folks the can con into voting for them. Its time to vote the entire legislature out of office along with Nathan “BAD” DEAL and his cronies.

Centrist

July 16th, 2012
12:07 pm

It will be interesting to see if sending funds to an independent PAC without coordination is against Campaign Finance rules. I don’t like it any more than Galloway, but suspect this tactic has been vetted as “legal”. You often don’t get justice, you get the law (which is written by politicians).

hiram

July 16th, 2012
12:11 pm

These guys have learned from past experience that they can get away with anything in what has to be the most corrupt state government in the country. Sonny set the stage with scandal after scandal that he was never held accountable for, which was just the warm up act for Brother Deal. Ralston, Rogers, Graves, et al., ooze a slime trail where ever they go, but all they have to do is profess their love for Jesus and guns, interjected with hatred of Obama, and Georgia’s electorate remains in total bliss. It’s a sickness…

Look before I leap...

July 16th, 2012
12:13 pm

“We gave him money and a list of candidates”
But no collaboration going on here. *wink wink*
Nothing to see, move along.

Isn’t the term “only legal mechanism” also known as a “loophole”?

Incumbents fear primary challenges because like c0ckroaches, they fear the light of day.

Note to Mr Galloway: You need to lighten up on your filters. It is nearly impossible these days to talk about our current office holders without using the term “c0ckroach”.

Centrist

July 16th, 2012
12:15 pm

Baron Dekalb posted in the previous blog before it was replaced with this one – “Where can I find evidence of this ‘Pro T-SPLOST bias of the Atlanta Journal Constitution’ – Please show me one instance where Galloway has promoted or endorsed the TSPLOST”.

See Ga Values post in the previous blog about @ 10:30am where he pointed out today’s article has multiple Pro viewpoints and a single Con.

Galloway announced in an earlier blog with his wrong-headed spin that the T-SPLOST was popular and the opposition was disorganized. He purposely left out of his multiple blogs covering the Milton debate he moderated between Chip Rogers and Brandon Beach that I attended and heard Beach support the T-SPLOST. He also left out that Beach admitted he skipped a critical vote (he was even offered to vote by phone) that would have killed the GA 400 tolls. Galloway left those important points out of his review because those issues are unpopular in the northern suburbs where Beach is running – Galloway is a shill for T-SPLOST.

Lars

July 16th, 2012
12:17 pm

Wow, do we need any more evidence that Dan Balfour and the rest are a crooks? Why isn’t Balfour in jail?

Cliff

July 16th, 2012
12:17 pm

“Political Insider” is the perfect name for this article. There is nothing like lifting up the hood to see how the gears work inside! This reminds me of when Stephen Colbert turned the reins of his Super-Pac over to John Stewart and all of the “not coordinating” they were able to do together.

I loved the line in the email: “This is completely legal and does not violate any finance campaign laws.” I am sure the same thing happened in the last decade when all of these exact same people were Democrats. Perhaps we should pool our money to form the Georgia Republican Senate Caucus Anti-Promotion PAC. I would be happy to work on your behalf with just a “small” percentage of the usual and customary overhead and administrative fees, of course.

honested

July 16th, 2012
12:32 pm

How many years of the corrupt ‘One Party State’ will GA Voters endure before the light goes on in our collective heads?

Even if this falls within the broad and forgiving constraints of GA campaign law, why on earth would we want legislation developed by those so unabashedly concerned with maintenance of their own power?

DannyX

July 16th, 2012
12:36 pm

Cecil Stanton should win by a landslide, he is getting lots of help.

Not only does he have this phony unethical PAC working for him, he also has help from grassroots super supporter Beth Merkleson.

Colbert and Stewart should relocate to Georgia, there is plenty of material here.

Beth says…”Vote for Cecil….and Chip and Don too!

Alan

July 16th, 2012
12:51 pm

But I thought Chip sold the hotel . . . so he would never do anything sleazy as is suggested in this column. Right? He is a disgrace to the conservative movement.

Trickle Down

July 16th, 2012
12:53 pm

Most Corrupt state in the nation? Not so sure about that — lots of strong competition there, Jersey, Louisiana, Illinois (with two governors in prison!).

Georgia pols are certainly a bunch of power-drunk, self-serving want-wits, but most Corrupt? Naahhh. They aren’t smart enough for that. Maybe corrupt with a lower case C.

Centrist

July 16th, 2012
1:00 pm

This is from Wikipedia (not an official source): “Groups with an ideological mission, single-issue groups, and members of Congress and other political leaders may form “non-connected PACs”. These organizations may accept funds from any individual, business PAC or organization.”

I suspect that both parties use this “loophole” where candidates who are individuals and organizations. Hopefully, we will hear the outcome of this ethics complaint – even if it is dismissed as a publicity stunt.

Bob Loblaw

July 16th, 2012
1:12 pm

We need a good lawyer to look into the doubletalk!

Ga Values .................. VOTE NO FOR WASTE, GRAFT & CORRUPTION

July 16th, 2012
1:15 pm

Two weeks ahead of the primary election, an exclusive 11Alive News poll shows a majority of voters oppose a tax increase for regional transportation projects. The Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) would equal one cent for every dollar spent in a given region.

Among likely voters surveyed for the exclusive poll conducted by SurveyUSA across the state, 48% said they would vote against T-SPLOST, 36% said they would vote for it, and 16% were still undecided. The margin of error was 3.4%.

Broken down by region, in the state’s most populous region, Metro Atlanta (region 3), 49% of likely voters said they would vote against T-SPLOST while 36% would vote for it. In Northwest Georgia (region 1), 66% would vote against it and 22% would vote for it. In Georgia’s Mountains (region 2), 61% would vote against it and 24% would vote for it. Northeast Georgia (region #5) was split on the vote with 40% in favor and 41% opposed. The margin of error was 3.4% among likely voters.

Asked how familiar respondents were with the proposed projects in their areas, 26% of all respondents said they were very familiar, 36% said they were somewhat familiar, 21% were not very familiar, 14% said they were not at all familiar with the projects and 2% said they were not sure. The margin of error was 2.8%.

Whether the measure passes or not, most people across the state said they didn’t think T-SPLOST would make a difference to traffic in their area in the long run.

If it passed, 56% of all respondents said traffic would stay about the same, 22% thought it would get better, 11% thought it would get worse, and 12% were not sure. The margin of error was 2.8%.

If it didn’t pass, 67% of all respondents said traffic would stay about the same, 7% thought it would get better, 18% thought it would get worse, and 9% were not sure. The margin of error was 2.6%.

About half of all respondents across Georgia, 49%, said T-SPLOST advertising has made no difference on how they will vote. However, 19% said ads made them more likely to vote for the measure, 23% said ads made them more likely to vote against it, 3% haven’t seen any ads, and 6% were not sure. The margin of error was 2.8%.

Half of all respondents thought the government would mishandle any money raised from the penny sales tax. Specifically, 27% thought is was not very likely and 23% thought it was not at all likely that the funds would be properly handled. In contrast, 11% thought it was very likely and 31% thought it was somewhat likely that the money would be properly handled. The remaining 7% said they were not sure, and the margin of error was 2.8%.

Opponents of the transportation tax have argued that the wording of the preamble to the ballot measure is unfair. It states “Provides for local transportation projects to create jobs and reduce traffic congestion with citizen oversight.” Of people surveyed, 44% thought the wording was fair, 36% thought it was unfair, and 20% were not sure. The margin of error was 2.8%

DannyX

July 16th, 2012
1:21 pm

“These guys are snakes. The Goog Ole Boys. Vote every one of them out!”

Debbie Dooley should run for office.

“even if it is dismissed as a publicity stunt.” This guy @ 1:00pm should be kicked out the Tea Party, he is an apologist for the current corrupt system.

Centrist

July 16th, 2012
1:37 pm

Although I don’t like this tactic even if it is legal, it says a lot that Galloway solicits more ethics complaints and does not include a response to this Republican incumbent hit piece.

Formerteacher

July 16th, 2012
1:38 pm

The phrase “incumbent protection program” just makes me want to retch. Since our legislators won’t do it, I say we institute term limits right now. Every single one of those in the “incumbent protection program” should be voted out at the first possible moment. And I pray it starts in Senate District 21.

honested

July 16th, 2012
1:43 pm

Formerteacher,

At least you live in a District where the incumbent miscreant has an opponent.
We in the 40th are not so lucky!

honested

July 16th, 2012
1:46 pm

centrist,

What’s the point of couching your weak opposition to potentially criminal behavior in the pretense it is the responsibility of any journalist to ignore the shenanigans of corrupt politicians?

Maybe, with enough daylight, GA voters will look to their own best interest rather than maintain the herd mentality that gave us the current crop of self-serving stellar losers!

Georgia Voter

July 16th, 2012
1:48 pm

Will this be the thing that will finally sned Chip to jail?

Formerteacher

July 16th, 2012
1:57 pm

@honested, you have my sympathies. It’s been a long time coming here in the 21st, in fact I didn’t think I”d ever see the day. I hope you in the 40th have the same opportunity soon.

Fed up!

July 16th, 2012
2:05 pm

@Ga Vaues…. Try sticking to the subject and realize that Rogers is as slimy as a snake and instead of not showing up to tsplost meetings his next job may be working on the roads themselves…. Oh wait a minute… Will the winner can’t do that because that would mean an honest days work.

JILL EWBANK

July 16th, 2012
2:07 pm

GO AWAY CHIP, YOU HYPOCRITE!!!

Ga Values .................. VOTE NO FOR WASTE, GRAFT & CORRUPTION

July 16th, 2012
2:18 pm

Fed up!

July 16th, 2012
2:05 pm

I just posted the eaten alive poll because the AJC completely left corruption out of their pro tspLOST article this morning. Note only on 11% thought that the money would not be used to line Deal & Reed’a corrupt cronie’s pockets..

“Half of all respondents thought the government would mishandle any money raised from the penny sales tax. Specifically, 27% thought is was not very likely and 23% thought it was not at all likely that the funds would be properly handled. In contrast, 11% thought it was very likely and 31% thought it was somewhat likely that the money would be properly handled. The remaining 7% said they were not sure, and the margin of error was 2.8%.”

Junior Samples

July 16th, 2012
2:25 pm

Trickle Down,

You see the issue here is that some states actually have laws against corruption, AND put people in jail for breaking those laws. That’s the difference between us and them.

Anyone But Chip

July 16th, 2012
2:34 pm

Centrist –
It plays like a “Republican incumbent hit piece” because the caucus decided to “use Senate Republican Trust resources to assist our caucus members who received primary opposition.” You have to be an incumbent to get the money.

I don’t disagree that this is a loophole that both parties likely use but it’s another sleazy tool being used by our elected officials to avoid accountability and ensure they have all the cards stacked in their favor.They are attempting to circumvent a challenge to their seat on no other grounds than they had it first.

As for allowing a response…he printed their response. They made sure it was legal, they just don’t care if it’s sleazy.

crankee-yankee

July 16th, 2012
4:35 pm

And what is the GOP mantra when someone catches them with their hand in a cookie jar?

“WE DID NOTHING ILLEGAL.”

taco

July 16th, 2012
4:38 pm

@anyone but chip
Centrist doesn’t read other people’s posts, once he has determined that you are a dirty, no good, lib, like Galloway – yet he can’t get enough of Galloway – he analyzes ever syllable the man writes.

@ junior samples
My thoughts exactly – how anyone could have cast a vote for Brother Deal, given his well publicised baggage, is beyond comprehension, especially after 8 years of the worst governor in the state’s history(praying for rain on the capitol steps, dedicated, retro tax breaks, sweetheart land deals, using his position to employ and train future employees with taxpayers’ money, etc.,etc.,etc,) All they have to do is envoke some religious rethoric, and the dumbest voters in the country look the other way.

Centrist

July 16th, 2012
4:41 pm

@ Ga Values – Glad you noticed how the AJC uses bias in their “reporting”.

@ Anyone But Chip – I agree it is a “sleazy tool”, but my point is that Galloway made this sound illegal and that such a tactic was dreamed up by Rogers. Such bias may go down well with partisans, but not non-partisans and the other side (I am the former). Incumbents banding together to fend off competitors is nothing new, and certainly not illegal in itself – including pooling funds.

Centrist

July 16th, 2012
4:45 pm

I read most posts (including yours) until/unless they get nasty, name calling, or plain partisan without any facts. Then I skip over those screen names. Galloway is not nasty or name calling, and he often offers facts. But he is very partisan and selective – so I call him out.

DannyX

July 16th, 2012
4:53 pm

“Such bias may go down well with partisans, but not non-partisans and the other side (I am the former).”

“Centrist” is extremely partisan. Why he pretends to be non-partisan is strange, anyone that reads his posts can easily see how partisan he is, he is not fooling anyone. His continuous creepy stalking of Jim Galloway is more proof. My guess is he works for the Rogers campaign.

Rockerbabe

July 16th, 2012
5:14 pm

This is easy to fix; JUST DO NOT VOTE FOR ANY REPUBLICANS ON THE BALLOT. It’s called “throw the bums out!”

Hopper

July 16th, 2012
5:16 pm

Ol’ Chip has more ethics problems than Starbucks has baristas.

Old Physics Teacher

July 16th, 2012
5:16 pm

Wow! So, what I’m hearing is that, no matter whether or not you are doing what is right for your constituency; no matter whether or not you’re even showing up for votes; no matter whether or not you’re an honest man, a con man, a crook, or a felon? If you’re an incumbent, a fellow incumbent (from the same party) will give you money to help you stay in office. Is that right? I don’t care whether or not it’s legal, guys; IS THAT RIGHT? Is that what we sent these guys to Atlanta to do? They’re all in this together? “Honest” men back dishonest ones? And we still keep voting for them? Not any more!!!

taco

July 16th, 2012
5:27 pm

Centrist has a persecution complex. I’m just thankful that he isn’t a relative, and I don’t have to delete 10,000 right wing propaganda emails a day.

DeKalb Wonkette

July 16th, 2012
5:38 pm

Wow. It’s like the mob.

Buckhead Boy

July 16th, 2012
5:47 pm

No, Old Physics Teacher, that’s not right, as the money in this instance came originally in large part from such interests as health care insurers, payday loan companies, and big tobacco, and the fellow incumbents are merely trustees of that money to insure that those who serve those interests are re-elected. Neither morality nor the public’s interest factors into it one iota from beginning to end. In other words, its much worse than you thought.

td

July 16th, 2012
5:48 pm

honested

July 16th, 2012
12:32 pm

How many years of the corrupt ‘One Party State’ will GA Voters endure before the light goes on in our collective heads?

Let us see 140 years of a corrupt ‘One Party state’ and then we have changed for 10 years. I guess to answer your question then we need at least 130 more years of Republican control to make it even.

td

July 16th, 2012
5:51 pm

Old Physics Teacher

July 16th, 2012
5:16 pm

You act like this is the first time in history that incumbent politicians has ever given money to fellow incumbent politicians. Get a grip man this is the way politics in local, county, state and national races has worked since the founding of this nation.

td

July 16th, 2012
5:53 pm

Buckhead Boy

July 16th, 2012
5:47 pm

And this is the first time in history that one incumbent politician has raised or given money to another incumbent politician?

Ga Values .................. VOTE NO FOR WASTE, GRAFT & CORRUPTION

July 16th, 2012
6:51 pm

Centrist

July 16th, 2012
4:41 pm

I often have a problem with the AJC but rarely with Jim.. you are overly critical of Galloway.

joejoe

July 16th, 2012
11:36 pm

And some would suggest that a $100 spending limit by lobbyists would solve all the ethics problems.

Slip

July 17th, 2012
1:43 am

Cent, “Galloway made this sound illegal and that such a tactic was dreamed up by Rogers”

Legal and ethical Can be different. However, the way these Senators described the act in their own words, it does not seem to meet the “independent expenditure” definition. That is, an independent advocate cannot be solicited to advocate by the candidate for whom he is to advocate.

Jae

July 17th, 2012
2:01 pm

Ethics 101: When you pay someone any amount of money ($1 or $1 million) to support you, they are no longer independent.

“We gave him a block grant of funding to his independent committee and trusted him to maximize those dollars to help our incumbents. We provided him with of legislative accomplishments from the past 2 years and the names of Caucus members facing primary opposition.”

This should be a slam dunk for the Campaign Finance Commission. The trust just used a surrogate to put money directly into campaigns once the state party realized it was unethical.

Windpilot

July 17th, 2012
2:49 pm

Jim, you write a great column often and superior one more often than not. This one spurred me to act on the behalf of Steve Voshall who is on the defensive end of this atrocious action by our Republican leadership. As a Republican Precinct Chairman and a delegate to every level of Georgia GOP Conventions. I think we should throw out every last one of the Senate with this revelation. Mr. Rogers let me inform you that you are now a target to be removed from leadership and even though you are in the district just south of me I will work night and day to kick you to the curb. You are not worthy of consideration for dog catcher. Herman Cain had it right Politicians think we are stupid, we’re dumb sometimes but we will not forget what you did on Friday.