UPDATED: Brookhaven mayoral candidates spar over finance reports
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information regarding the amount of campaign contributions. The story has been updated to reflect the correct data and has been edited to clarify the original reporting.
Sandy Murray and J. Max Davis are raising money – and spending it – at a nearly even pace and the rhetoric from both campaigns indicates a fierce fight to the finish.
Campaign finance reports show Larry Danese, the other candidate in the race, has catching up to do if he wants to raise and spend as much as his competition. The election of Brookhaven’s first mayor and City Council is Nov 6.
The Murray and Davis campaigns on Tuesday, Oct. 23, traded barbs over alleged ethics issues. Murray called on Davis to return contributions from potential city vendors and contractors. The Davis campaign has made an issue out of $250 in unpaid fines levied against Murray by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission for failure to file personal financial disclosures.
Reports filed on Oct. 22 shows Davis with a slight fundraising edge, bringing in $23,482 compared with Murray’s $21,210. Murray loaned her campaign $3,980 during the recent reporting period, records show. Davis loaned his campaign $2,718.
Murray spent more than her rival, using $17,666 of her campaign funds. Davis had spent $16,850.
Danese’s total fundraising, $1,230 on his most recent report, comes mostly from $1,130 he loaned to his campaign. He spent $776. Danese said his 15-day report will show an additional $150 in contributions and $72 in expenses.
Taking contributions would potentially create conflicts such as accepting money from potential city vendors, Danese said. He said he wants to avoid the appearance of favoritism. He said he thinks he can still be competitive, if voters can look past the politics of the race.
“In the forums that we’ve had to date, I’ve tried to answer questions directly and honestly …,” he said. “I have to count on voters selecting substance over signs.”
J. Max Davis
Davis and Murray used the reports to hack away at each other, with Davis calling Murray a hypocrite who has taken money from a potential city vendor and who is backed by opponents of cityhood. Murray says Davis has not been engaged with the community as long as she has.
Murray’s campaign said in a press release that the vendor and contractor contributions to Davis “give the appearance of corruption”. The Davis campaign hit back hard, raising the issue of the unpaid fines for failure to file the financial disclosures. The disclosures detail candidates’ financial interests.
According to state election law, “A Candidate for Public Office elected at a local and/or state level shall file not later than the fifteenth day on which the candidate qualifies.”
Murray was fined twice: once for missing the deadline for her run for state legislature, which she abandoned, and a second time for missing the deadline for her mayoral run. The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission Executive Secretary Holly LaBerge said any unpaid fines will eventually be turned over to a collection agency, but there are no additional penalties.
Murray said an uncorrected error resulted in the two $125 fines and she believes she does not owe them. Records show she filed a 2010 disclosure in June of this year and a disclosure for 2011 on Oct 7. The disclosures cover the prior calendar year.
Murray said she filed a disclosure at the end of May, but was unable to select the correct year due to a software glitch.
“The deadline was over a holiday weekend so there was nobody to call nobody to email, so I just filed it that way and I forgot the next day to call them and tell them about the problem I had,” Murray said. “I didn’t know there was an issue until yesterday.”
She said she was confused about the need to file a second report.
“It’s unclear if you have to file a personal financial disclosure for each campaign,” Murray said. “It’s the exact same report. My understanding is it was the same report so you just filed once so it doesn’t appear that it was tied to a specific campaign.”
The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission is investigating the error she reported, she said.
The pro-cityhood movement clearly backs Davis, records show. The largest contribution came from Rep. Mike Jacobs, who gave $2,500 to the candidate. Jacobs introduced the bill authorizing the vote for Brookhaven cityhood in the state Legislature. The anti-cityhood movement clearly backs Murray. Murray received $1,500 from the Imlay family, which backed efforts against cityhood.
Davis received at least $2,900 from potential city vendors or donors who work for potential vendors, based on those companies’ history of doing business with other governments. But Davis struck back at that criticism, saying a $250 donation by the Weissman Nowack Curry & Willco law firm to Murray’s campaign is essentially the same thing. A company attorney, Doug Dillard, is representing a client in a DeKalb County zoning case, records show.
“Weissman Nowack Curry & Willco have business before the DeKalb County Zoning Board in the city of Brookhaven footprint,” Davis said.
He said as mayor he will not be in a position to influence the selection of contractors and vendors for city services, saying he won’t have a vote unless there is a tie.
He also said Murray’s list of contributors is a “who’s who” of cityhood opponents, saying the money comes from people tied to the Democratic Party. He also knocked Murray for accepting contributions from donors who live out of state, saying his finance forms show a groundswell of support from Brookhaven residents.
Murray said Dillard is a personal friend, not a potential vendor for the city.
“Doug Dillard is a friend of mine from the Brookhaven Farmer’s Market,” Murray said. “He’s got some great okra if you ever stop by.”
Murray said opponents of cityhood were involved in Brookhaven before the vote.
“We are all citizens of Brookhaven and regardless of how we voted in the primary, and what we thought before we are now a city,” Murray said. “We love our community and many of us have been longtime contributors to our community, long before cityhood was ever thought about.”
She said Davis has not been as active in the community as she has been.
“My concern isn’t so much about whether we were for or against the city but how we’re going to conduct ourselves in the future,” Murray said.