The race to become the first mayor of Macon-Bibb Countys consolidated government appears to be a blowout so far, at least in terms of campaign money.
Incumbent Macon Mayor Robert Reichert raised $165,096 by the end of June, according to the report filed with the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission. Hed spent $64,979.92, leaving $100,116.08 on hand. Thats more than any of the other five candidates who qualified for the race in April, before the Bibb County Board of Elections reset the election date for Sept. 17.
We are pleased and flattered by the level of support that weve been getting, Reichert said. Its the result, we think, of a lot of hard work. But we recognize too that we have to match the money that we raise with sweat equity and putting that to good use.
Since filing the state report, his campaign fundraising has continued at or about that pace, he said.
Money alone doesnt win a race, but it enables you to get your message out, Reichert said.
Five of the candidates -- Reichert, Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen, former County Commission Chairman Charlie Bishop, businessman David Cousino and incumbent County Commission Chairman Sam Hart -- have campaign finance reports posted on the state campaign finance website, as per the usual June 30 deadline for such disclosures. The exception is former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis.
You wouldnt find one there, because none was due until 15 days prior to the election, Ellis said. He said he contacted the state campaign finance commission and has it in writing that the June 30 filing doesnt apply to this race since the election date changed to Sept. 17. He said he doesnt plan to disclose his campaign finances until Sept. 2, despite other candidates reports already made public, Ellis said.
Thats their prerogative to do, but they dont have to, he said.
Reichert said that most of his donors are longtime supporters. The largest single contribution is $2,500 -- the legal maximum -- from Ken Jones Sr. of Kens Stereo Junction. Bibb Distributing Co. gave $2,000, and Macon City Councilwoman Beverly K. Olson donated $1,200, while other prominent locals such as businessman Bill Fickling, Mercer University Chancellor Kirby Godsey and Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority Chairman Cliffard Whitby each kicked in $1,000. Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn gave Reichert $250.
Ellis refused to say how much he has raised.
I will do that during my reporting period, he said. But he indicated that his fundraising lags well behind Reicherts, noting that he was out-spent in their previous contest in 2011.
We expect that to be about the same this time, Ellis said. But in 1999 he overcame a five-to-one financial disadvantage to win the mayors office and can do so again, he said.
Nothing overcomes work, hard work, Ellis said. We have to work a little harder and a little smarter.
Hes still trying to raise money and wants to maximize the donations through intensive get-out-the-vote efforts, he said.
Ellis called it disgraceful that a campaign for local office, even one so significant, should involve so much money. He urged his opponents to pledge to spend no more than $100,000 and to donate any contributions over that amount to charity.
Ellis said $100,000 is his own fundraising goal for this election.
Among mayoral candidates with reports on file, the second-place fundraiser is Hart, who was not reached for comment.
According to his state report, Harts campaign took in less than one-quarter of Reicherts haul by June 30: $36,436, of which hed spent $28,527.51, leaving $7,908.49 on hand. Harts biggest individual contributor, with the maximum of $2,500, was also a Reichert donor -- Kirby Godsey.
Following Hart is Bishop, who received $14,151 by the time he filed. Bishop had spent $9,156.25, leaving him with $4,994.75.
Were continuing to try to raise money, he said. But a raw dollar amount doesnt say a whole lot of anything, Bishop said, and his collection was slowed by a personal hiatus.
The simple matter is, I havent solicited as much money as probably I should, he said. But money is not necessarily the best measure of how successful your campaigns going to be. It all boils down to developing the public trust.
Like Ellis, Bishop said hed also beaten opponents who far outraised him in previous elections.
It just means if you dont have the money, youve got to work harder, he said. When he won chairmanship of the county commission, he did so with about 29,000 votes, Bishop said. Given this elections odd timing, he doubts that more than twice that many will turn out for the countywide mayoral race; so hes aiming for enough money to get 29,100 supporters to the polls.
Thats all the money I need, Bishop said.
Next is Allen, who had raised $6,863 and spent $6,305, leaving $504 on hand. Not much has changed since his report filing, he said. But hes not counting on needing much more than hes already spent on qualifying, buying just enough signs and decorating his car. Allen said voters already are well familiar with the records of all the mayoral candidates, none of whom are political newcomers.
They know what they stand for, they know what theyve done in the past for this community, he said. Thats going to be looked at very hard by the people who vote.
Finally theres Cousino. He filed his campaign disclosure form June 10, listing $3,000 in contributions, all from himself and his family. That went to pay the qualifying fee, leaving his campaign fund empty, he said.
In general, I want for people to vote for the person, not to pay for the politician to get in office, Cousino said. I want their votes, not their money. I believe my message will be across.
But the states listing is inaccurate, he said -- it shows that $3,000 still on hand, and doesnt include an additional $200 contribution which he spent on signs.
Somewhere, somebody messed up on it, Cousino said.
The confusion over financial reporting in this election doesnt end with whats already posted. Jean Howard, Macons city clerk, said she also received the state campaign finance emails that were sent to all candidates who qualified in April. According to those, candidates are required to file campaign finance reports both times -- by June 30, with a grace period until July 8; and, now that the elections been reset for Sept. 17, a second campaign finance report 15 days before the election, she said.
They will need to file their campaign disclosure on Sept. 2, and then they have a grace period until Sept. 9, Howard said. Personal financial disclosure forms, separate from campaign contribution reports, also will have to be filed twice, she said.
But Ellis forwarded to The Telegraph an email he said came from Maria Bazile, education coordinator for the state campaign finance commission. Hed asked when he needed to file his campaign disclosure.
Because the election was reschedule(d) prior to June 30, you only have to file 15 days before the Special(election) and December 31, according to the email, from July 8.
The campaign finance commission answers candidates questions but does not respond on the record to media inquiries.
Reichert said the state gave candidates mixed signals.
They sent out a couple of different emails to us, he said. They switched on us. They said to file June 30, and then they said No, dont, but we felt like disclosure was in the best interest of the community -- just being transparent.
To search for campaign finance and personal disclosure reports of the candidates, go to www.ethics.ga.gov.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.