Members of the state Senate Republican Caucus and some of their very best friends will spend two days in Adairsville this week to play golf and display their expertise with shotguns.
One can pay $500 for a dinner-time chat, but the main events on Wednesday and Thursday are open only to those willing to give $2,500 to $10,000 to the caucus’ campaign arm, the Georgia Republican Senatorial Trust.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has sent an email to Republicans to inform them, in very strong language, that he’s not going.
He has problems with the way $140,000 of caucus money was handed to an allegedly independent committee – based in North Carolina – to defend GOP senators from primary challengers this summer.
The Trust is so named because its funds are to be raised, held and spent IN TRUST. The management of the trust reflects on the reputation of each Caucus member. Decisions must be made openly and transparently and in compliance with law. We cannot allow the integrity of the Trust to be compromised under any circumstances.
We do not have to cheat to win in November. The truth is that our candidates are better, our ideas are better, our organization is better, and our financing is better. It is not necessary to play fast and loose with the rules. We can win fair and square while abiding by the letter and the spirit of Georgia’s campaign finance laws.
Please know that I will do everything legally and ethically in my power to help protect and expand our Republican majority. However, until certain questions are answered and reforms made, I believe that my participation in the upcoming Trust fundraiser could hurt our cause by serving to wrongly legitimize conduct and decisions which are wholly unacceptable.”
Now, might the two-year leadership struggle in the state Senate a part of this? Obviously. This week’s north Georgia gathering will be the first pre-session meeting of the caucus leading up to leadership votes that will take place after the Nov. 6 election.
The caucus stripped Cagle of much of his authority in the chamber shortly after his 2010 re-election. Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, one of those who pushed that effort, is bowing out as leader of the chamber.
But most specifically at issue is the Trust’s decision earlier this year to put its cash in the hands of the independent political committee.
In a July email to their fellow senators, three Republican senate leaders – Rogers, Bill Cowsert of Athens, and Greg Goggans of Douglas – explained that they had given the committee not just the cash, but the message to voters that they wanted delivered, and a list of the incumbents to be protected.
“This is completely legal and does not violate any finance campaign laws,” the three wrote.
Cagle apparently thinks that there’s a high probability that they’re wrong. State law forbids coordination between individual campaigns and independent committees. Here’s a portion of the relevant state law:
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.
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.
The spending has resulted in several complaints from Republican primary challengers that have been filed with the state ethics commission.
We’ve asked for reaction from Cowsert, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, to the lieutenant governor’s assertions, but have not heard back. We’ll add his remarks as soon as we do.
At least one Republican senator has told us that he won’t attend the event at the Barnsley Gardens Resort. “I have no plans to be there,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, sponsor of legislation to limit gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers to $100.
“I’ve expressed concern about the state of the financials. I’m requesting an accounting,” he said. I’m not confident about lending my name to any fundraising effort without having that accounting.”
So far as we know, the Senate Republican Trust had not previously involved itself in primary challenges. Redistricting, and the vulnerability that the new district maps produced, is one reason we’ve been given for the shift in policy.
Within Senate Republican ranks, there’s been some grumbling about how the $140,000 was used, and who received how much help. We’ve got a list here that we’re told comes – indirectly — from the independent committee.
Bill Heath of Bremen, who was forced into a runoff, received $50,552 worth of help – in the form of 115,600 mail pieces. Rogers, the majority leader, was helped with 75,000 mail pieces worth $33,000.
After that: Jack Murphy of Cumming (54,600 pieces, $26,244); Johnny Grant of Milledgeville (25,000 pieces, $13,500); Don Balfour of Snellville (9,100 pieces, $5,278); Frank Ginn of Danielsville (7,100 pieces, $4,473); and Cecil Staton of Macon (6,700 pieces, $4,388).
Only one general election race is likely to attract the attention of the Senate Republican Trust this fall – the state Senate contest between GOP challenger Hunter Hill of Atlanta and state Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider