WARNER ROBINS — Chuck Chalk picked up a hefty — and, state officials say, illegal — contribution in the last days of the 2009 election year.
According to campaign contribution disclosures filed Dec. 31 with the city, Chalk received a $10,000 contribution Dec. 19 from the “Walker Campaign Account.” Chalk was one of four men vying to become the city’s mayor last year. Incumbent Mayor Donald Walker died Sept. 28, and former Councilman Clifford Holmes Jr. came in third in the general election. Chalk lost in a Dec. 1 runoff to Mayor Chuck Shaheen by 190 votes, drawing 2,737 of the total 5,664 votes.
The money could have been used to pay back a $10,000 loan Chalk took out from Robins Federal Credit Union to help fund his campaign. According to the contribution reports, Chalk deducted $10,230 on Dec. 31 to repay loans he’d given his campaign.
Chalk said Tuesday that he had been working with the State Ethics Commission on the matter of receiving a contribution from another campaign and the right procedures in which it could be done.
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“Whatever the rules are, (the State Ethics Commission) counseled us as we worked through the planning process,” Chalk said. “I didn’t speak directly to the SEC, but someone who I trust did. They said it wouldn’t be a problem to receive those funds from the campaign account.”
Chalk gained momentum in the mayoral race shortly after Walker’s death when Patricia Walker endorsed him for her husband’s job. The endorsement also came with a flood of contributions from Walker family members and supporters — totaling more than $12,000 in two week’s time. The support helped propel him into a runoff with Shaheen.
No matter how you look at it, State Ethics Commission officials say, the contribution is illegal.
“That would appear to be a problem with the contribution limits,” said Tom Plank, acting executive secretary for the commission, of the large contribution. “Money taken is subject to the (election) limits.”
“Plank said information in the Ethics in Government Act could be ambiguous at times. He referenced section 21-5-33, which speaks to the disposition of contributions and says contributions to a candidate may be transferred “without limitation” to any national, state or local committee of any political party or to any other candidate. But, Plank said, he did not believe that took precedent over 21-5-41, which states ‘‘no person or political entity shall receive more than $2,400 from a single donor during a general election and $1,200 during a general election runoff.”
While attorneys for Walker were working to remove money from the account to help Chalk in an unsuccessful mayoral bid, they apparently have neglected closing out Walker’s own account.
According to city officials, the campaign disclosure forms for Walker’s account still have not been submitted. The forms were due Dec. 31, the end of the filing year for 2009 races.
Larry Walker, the attorney for the Donald Walker estate, sent city officials a letter explaining the tardiness of the campaign report. Efforts to reach Larry Walker were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Plank said he’s only experienced one other instance where a candidate died before all filings were due. He said there is a normal lag in that instance, as it becomes an issue with the estate, which usually goes through probate court. No late fees will be filed against the account, Plank said, as those only apply to living candidates.
“They do need to file,” he said. “(Walker representatives) have told me they’ve been attempting to get it in and filed.”
Campaign contributions become cause for concern when they’re not properly reported or exceed the amount for the time in which the contribution is given. Candidates for political office face warnings and fines if their contribution disclosure forms contain problems of any kind. Plank said the contribution to Chalk could be investigated if someone filed a complaint with the commission or if it opened its own investigation into the contribution.
To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.