The race for the states new Senate District 18 seat got more heated Tuesday as challenger Spencer Price addressed several e-mails and websites that he characterized as an attack on his character.
Price, who is challenging incumbent state Sen. Cecil Staton in the Republican primary, asked Staton to stand with him and denounce a series of online attacks which Price said are false.
At a news conference at Macon City Hall, Price addressed a number of e-mails in which a person named Brian Zorotovich accused Price, a farmer and Iraqi war veteran, of several instances of financial problems, including allegations of tax liens, bankruptcy and lawsuits. The e-mails were sent to the Republican Party of Bibb and Monroe counties, among others, Price said.
I am calling on my opponent, Cecil Staton, to publicly disavow this type of character assassination as unworthy of our American democratic process, Price said.
Price provided a roster from a Georgia Southern University intramural basketball team that lists both Zorotovich and Zach Louis, who is Statons campaign manager.
Louis declined to answer questions by telephone Tuesday, but he e-mailed the campaigns official response to several questions. Regarding Zorotovich, the e-mail reads: He is not connected to the Staton Campaign. The fact that his name is on an intramural roster along with that of other students including Zach Louis does not connect him to our campaign.
Attempts by The Telegraph to locate Zorotovich for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful. Though he is listed as having a Marietta address, he does not have a listed phone number.
Price acknowledged that he has had financial difficulties in the past. He said his late son, John Edward, was being treated at Egleston Childrens Hospital in Atlanta during 2001 for a congenital heart defect. Price said his sons medical expenses exceeded the amount his insurance would pay.
Price said he chose to pay the bills rather than declare bankruptcy.
In addition, Price said he had further financial difficulties when he was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and was forced to close his private medical practice. At that time, he was unable to repay a loan from The Medical Center of Central Georgia, forcing a breach of contract.
Price said hes paying the debt in installments, though Medical Center lead counsel Kenneth Banks said Tuesday theres still a lawsuit pending regarding court costs and attorneys fees. The Telegraph was able to verify independently that most of the documentation Price provided, including two federal tax liens of $9,920 and $26,614 that were settled and that Price was released from them. While Price provided documentation that a lien filed against him by the states Department of Labor was satisfied in May 2005, officials with the department said they arent allowed to comment on the case.
Price also was attacked in Zorotovichs e-mails for being sued by an ex-girlfriend that loaned him $100,000 that he refused to pay back. However, Price said the woman in question, Elizabeth Thomas, was an acquaintance whom he dated a few times and that she and her brother wanted to invest in a business Price was starting called Professional Relocation Group Inc. Upson County officials confirmed the case was settled out of court.
Other websites attacking Price include a Flickr account called Spencer Price Is A Fraud, and a website called Spencer Price Ethics, which is being paid for by Staton for Senate.
On both of the websites, Price is accused of not filing his campaign disclosures in a timely manner. Price provided a series of e-mails between him and the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission that indicated he was having technical problems and other issues in filing on time. The commissions website still shows Price owing $125 in late fees from March 31 to April 12. Price said he has paid the money, and commission spokeswoman Holly LaBerge confirmed Tuesday afternoon that because of staffing shortages, often payments may not show up on the website for several weeks.
In an e-mail, the Staton campaign called Prices news conference a clever political distraction.
Spencer Prices professional and ethical issues are of his own making and have nothing to do with Senator Cecil Staton, the response read. It does not erase Spencers numerous failures to pay state and federal taxes over multiple years. It will not cover up the lawsuits from his former girlfriend and business institutions in central Georgia. And it certainly will not erase his numerous violations of campaign finance laws and the resulting fines (not fees). Those issues were not created by the Staton campaign, but by Spencer Price and his personal choices and actions.
Price noted the e-mail campaign against him is eerily similar to the tactics utilized by the now infamous Beth Merkleson, whose e-mails in the spring of 2011 denounced several GOP state senators for allying with Democrats in a power play. Those e-mails were publicly traced to Mr. Statons office computer IP address. A later investigation showed Merkleson to be a made-up person.
The Staton campaign wrote that an investigation into the Merkleson case turned up nothing.
Senator Staton, along with members of the Senate leadership, investigated this matter thoroughly, the e-mail read. Accountability in ethics is a critical part of creating trust with voters, and Senator Staton places a high value on that. While there was no legitimate evidence to support the accusations, findings were presented to the Senate caucus, and they stood with Senator Staton who is the Majority Whip. Enough said.
Price said after Tuesdays news conference that he wants to debate the issues rather than engage in mud-slinging. He said his chief concerns for Middle Georgia include health care, tax issues, jobs, the economy and Robins Air Force Base.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.