Disclosure reports show businesses as major donors in commissioner, sheriff campaigns

Attorneys, developers big spenders in Bartow elections

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It isn’t terribly difficult to get one’s hands on campaign contribution data for state- and federal-level officials — all one has to do is log onto the internet and peruse the spread sheets posted on websites such as the one for Georgia’s Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (GTCFC).

But getting the numbers on municipal-level campaign contributions is much more onerous. For example, the aforementioned GTCFC website doesn’t have any data on the Committee to Elect Matt Santini from after 2013, while the electronic records for the Steve Taylor for Commissioner committee contains many incomplete — and in some cases, completely missing — records. 

The 2016 election cycle filings, for instance, includes virtually no information on individual campaign donors, nor the size of their financial contributions. Along those same lines, the website doesn’t even list two-day business reports — which are required to report contributions and loans greater than $1,000 — for the committee after 2012.

Furthermore, the GTCFC website doesn’t even have publicly accessible records for other county- and city-level elected officials, such as council members, sheriffs, tax commissioners or school board members.

But the hard data is there, albeit entirely offline. While Bartow’s individual city clerks are tasked under Georgia law with maintaining municipal elected officials’ campaign contribution data, campaign contribution records for all of the County-level elected officials — running the gamut from the  coroner and clerk of court to the commissioner and sheriff — are also maintained in hard copy at the Bartow County Board of Elections and Voter Registration headquarters.

Ahead of this fall’s municipal-level elections, The Daily Tribune News hit the archives to see just how much campaign contribution data is available to the public — and how much more information is out there than the barebones numbers posted on the GTCFC website.

As it turns out, there is substantially more data on Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor’s campaign contributions and expenditures available offline than accessible online. A 2018 Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report indicates that Taylor contributed money to several state- and local-level politicians' campaigns last year, with $1,250 donated to Brian Kemp’s gubernatorial campaign.

That same year, he also donated $300 each to the campaigns of State Sen. Bruce Thompson and State Rep. Matthew Gambill, as well as $500 to the campaign for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, with an additional $250 donated to the campaign for Georgia Public Service Commission District 5 representative Tricia Pridemore.

The records also indicate that Taylor contributed $1,000 to Christian Coomer’s committee on Oct. 2, 2017.

Taylor’s total 2016 election year contributions are reported as $68,279.58, with campaign expenditures listed at $47,005.62. Of the latter amount, about $15,447 is attributed to M.C. Collier Productions, for what the disclosure report describes as campaign consultant services.

As for Taylor’s financial backers in 2016, the list includes at least one former governor — Roy Barnes contributed $2,000 to the campaign on May 4, per disclosure reports — and several real estate developers, including a handful associated with both LakePoint Sporting Community and the Village at Waterside development.

The disclosure reports lists two representatives of LakePoint Partners, David Branch and William Freeman, as contributing $1,000 each to Taylor's campaign, while two developers associated with the Waterside project — Wayne Biasetti and Ed Brush, the latter of whom is also a member of the the Emerson City Council — are listed as donating $1,000 each to his re-election efforts.

Several local attorneys also made contributions to Taylor’s 2016 campaign. Greg Culverhouse and H. Boyd Pettit III, the latter of whom serves as legal counsel for the Development Authority of Bartow County, each donated $1,000 to his re-election bid, and Jeffery Watkins, who was appointed as a judge to the Cherokee Judicial Circuit by Gov. Kemp earlier this year, also added $1,000 to Taylor’s campaign coffers.

Prominent local business leaders also spent big dollars on Taylor's campaign. James Dellinger (Chemical Products Corp.), Fritz Dent (Phoenix Air) and Robert Matthews (C.W. Matthews Contracting Co.) all donated $2,000, while Charles Shropshire (Johnny on the Spot), Danny Gilreath (Gilreath Carpet, Inc.) and James Jarrett (Shaw) each contributed $1,000. 

Jarrett currently serves as the chairman of the Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority. As Bartow’s sole commissioner, Taylor alone has the ability to approve appointments and reappointments of members to that particular authority. 

According to a disclosure report filed on May 6, 2016, Devan Seabaugh, vice president of administration for MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service, contributed $1,000 to Taylor’s campaign. A little over two years later, Taylor signed off on a plan to privatize Bartow County’s ambulance services, with a five-year contract awarded to Seabaugh’s Marietta-based company.

Taylor’s 2016 campaign contributions also includes a $500 donation from District 14 State Sen. Bruce Thompson (R, White), as well as a $750 contribution from the Georgia Association of Realtors. 

Contribution records also note that the committee paid a $2,250 qualification fee to the Bartow County Republican Party on March 7. That same day, the campaign received a personal loan from Taylor in the amount of $5,000.

Disclosure records for 2013 indicate Taylor closed out the non-election year with $73,470.99 in total contributions up to Dec. 31. Total campaign expenditures to that point are reported as $72,891.41

More information on those itemized donations and expenditures, however, were not immediately accessible to The Daily Tribune News.

The unearthed contribution reports also detail in-depth donations made to Sheriff Clark Millsap’s 2016 re-election campaign. A disclosure report dated April 3 indicates the campaign had received $44,633.46 in donations and made $7,606.04 in expenditures up to that point.

As with Taylor, many of Millsap's biggest contributors are prominent business leaders. Mark Thompson (Phoenix Air), James Dellinger (Chemical Products Corp.) and Wayne Biasetti (founder of what was formerly known as Enforcer Products) all contributed $2,000 to Millsap's re-election bid, while Jeff Self (Self Recycling, Inc.), Calvin Evans (Ausburg Investments, LLC) and Tommy Young (Hennessy Honda of Woodstock) each donated $1,000.

Attorney Bobby Cook is listed as donating $1,000, while records indicated former attorney Jeffrey Watkins donated $500. Matthew Gambill, who at the time was not an elected State official, contributed $250 to Millsap’s campaign.

As far as campaign expenditures go, one of the biggest beneficiaries of Millsap’s 2016 campaign was The Daily Tribune News itself. According to a June 30, 2016 disclosure report, Millsap's committee spent well over $3,000 on advertisements as part of his re-election campaign efforts.