Campaign money is a new front in the battle for Fulton County chair, as Gabriel Sterling has filed a formal complaint accusing fellow candidate Robb Pitts of violating disclosure laws. Pitts – who has vastly outraised and outspent Sterling — says he’s done nothing wrong and dismisses the complaint as “mudslinging.”
“Pitts seems to have a problem following the law,” said Sterling in a scathing press release, accusing Pitts of improperly reporting campaign spending as anonymous “cash”; failing to properly report a large balance carried over from previous campaigns; and failing to disclose spending on a recent mailer.
Pitts learned of Sterling’s complaint from the Reporter and said he could not immediately read an emailed copy because he was putting up signs at a senior center and does not use a smartphone. But, Pitts added, he did not need to see the complaint to know it’s wrong.
“Every penny that comes into my campaign, I can say without question and without reservation, is accounted for, and every penny that goes out is accounted for,” Pitts said. “I can say that without seeing anything.”
“You can expect all sorts of charges and countercharges and mudslinging in the final days of a losing campaign, from both sides,” Pitts added.
A third candidate in the race, Keisha Waites, said she had not seen the complaint, but that she is sure the state will handle it appropriately. She also said she is more interested in the potential “nightmare” of revenue problems for schools and other agencies amid the Fulton tax digest dispute.
“I don’t want us to distract with politics when the tax digest is what we need to focus on,” Waites said. “We need to keep focus on the taxpayers.”
Pitts’ campaign finance report, filed with the county, show four of the “cash” reports that Sterling referred to. The four payments, totaling $5,500, are reported as expenses for “GOTV,” a common political abbreviation for “get out the vote,” which can refer to a wide range of activities. The expenditures are reported as being made to “cash,” not to a specific person or organization. Many other expenditures include specific names and descriptions of the purpose.
The reports for Sterling and Waites do not have such “cash” reports.
“That is a major violation, hiding who is receiving payments,” Sterling said in his press release. “One is forced ask, ‘What is Commissioner Pitts hiding…and why?’”
Asked specifically about the “cash” report complaint, Pitts said, ““I have no clue,” but that he trusts in his campaign treasurer.
Pitts’ report also does not appear to report spending on any recent mailer. Sterling said in an interview that he has a good source of information for the mailer going to local residents. “My mother got it,” he said.
Sterling provided a copy of a complaint form that he said he filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
Here are the total amounts raised and spent by the Fulton County chair candidates, according to their Oct. 30 reports.
Raised: $152,454.26 (total $252,814.53, including the disputed balance carried over)
Updated version: This story has been updated with comment from Keisha Waites, and Gabriel Sterling’s fundraising total now includes an additional $11,100 in contributions reported in the past two business days.