November 30, 2022

Here’s where Athens political candidates get their money

Only two mayoral candidates — incumbent Kelly Girtz and challenger Mara Zúñiga — have raised a substantial amount of money, based on campaign finance statements filed by the candidates last week. But an Athens-Clarke County Commission nominee, John Culpepper, topped them both despite running to represent just one-tenth of the county. Zúñiga and Culpepper both enjoy substantial support from Republicans, records show.

Girtz said he raised $45,283 and spent $33,828 as of the end of April. Although he re-raised Zúñiga, he was financially at a disadvantage with only $3,105 in hand, compared to $18,643 for her. This is partly because Girtz paid campaign staffers, unlike Zúñiga. He also spent more money advertising in several local publications (including, full disclosure, $3,910 to flagpole).

Some of Girtz’s notable contributors include senior judge David Sweat ($500), retired probate court judge Susan Tate ($100), REM attorney and public education advocate Bertis Downs ($500) , REM singer Michael Stipe ($3,000), former Democratic congressman John Barrow ($250), former mayor Heidi Davison ($100), and Democratic State Rep. Spencer Frye’s campaign committee ($1,000).

Zúñiga said he raised $29,178 and spent $10,535. She received $225 from current Athens GOP Chairman Gordon Rhoden and $701 from his wife, Joan, also a GOP activist. Two other former Republican county chairmen also donated to the former Athens GOP treasurer’s campaign: John Elliot donated $600 and John Padgett, who also served as the state’s Republican Party chair, donated $500 . Car dealer Steve Middlebrooks and real estate broker Charlie Upchurch, co-founders of the Athens Classic group and the Athens Clean & Safe affiliate PAC formed to oppose progressive candidates, donated $2,500 and $2,800 respectively. Zúñiga also said he reimbursed Joan Rhoden $802 for website expenses.

Four other mayoral candidates – Pearl Hall, Fred Moorman, Mykeisha Ross and Bennie Coleman III – filed affidavits claiming they raised less than $2,500, exempting them from disclosing campaign funding. Moorman’s was filed two days after the grace period ended on May 9.

Coleman announced last week that he was dropping out of the race, citing health issues and his dissatisfaction with issues raised during the campaign. His name remains on the ballot, although no vote for him will count.

Culpepper said he raised $56,975 and had $27,712 on hand. Donors included Padgett ($500), Elliot ($100), Middlebrooks ($1,000), UGA football reporter Loran Smith ($500), Republican Watkinsville Mayor Brian Brodrick ($250) and the former Democratic Commissioner Kathy Hoard ($250), as well as a host of real estate agents and developers.

His District 7 opponent Allen Jones raised $16,434, including $100 from former ACC Democratic committee chairman Joe Wisenbaker, $100 from Al and Heidi Davison, $200 from Frye, $250 from Wallace, $500 from Democratic District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez and $1,500 from the former Democratic mayor. Gwen O’Looney and her husband, John.

Middlebrooks donated $2,000 to District 5 Commission candidate Dexter Fisher, but Liberal school board member Greg Davis also donated $100. Former sheriff Ira Edwards ($100) and civil rights attorney Ken Dious ($250) also gave Fisher, the soon-to-retire Clarke County School District director of operations. He finished second among commission contenders with $25,110 raised.

Another District 5 candidate, former commissioner Jared Bailey, said he raised $6,550, including $1,000 from longtime planning commissioner Lucy Rowland and $250 from former ACC auditor John Wolfe. District 5 candidate Matt Pulver raised $5,551, including $250 from former Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Wallace and $100 from Jenny Denson, the wife of current District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson, now school board candidate.

Greg Davis is the campaign treasurer for District 1 incumbent Patrick Davenport, who raised $6,493. Fellow commissioner Allison Wright gave him $125. Opponent Audrey Hughes raised $4,280.

In District 3, Tiffany Taylor said she was not required to make a disclosure because she raised less than $2,500. Asia Thomas initially filed a blank report with a list of donors and expenses attached, some of which only included first names. In an amended report filed after flagpoleby the print deadline, Thomas said she had raised $4,834. Middlebrooks was a top contributor with $1,000.

Campaign finance information can be found at ethics.ga.gov.

This article has been updated to add Moorman’s disclosure and correct the grace period end date.