The candidates seeking in 2010 to represent Oconee County in the Georgia House of Representatives spent a total of $93,244, according to campaign finance statements filed with the state Ethics Commission late last year and earlier this month.
That is $26,476 less than Bob Smith and Becky Vaughn spent in the 2006 campaign, the last time the 113th House District race was contested.
The vast majority of the money spent by the candidates was for advertising of one form or another.
The second largest expense was for campaign consultants.
The records provide only a broad overview of campaign spending in the 2010 campaign. They indicate that money went to a particular consultant or marketing firm, but they usually do not indicate what the consultant or marketing firm actually did for the candidate.
One thing they do not show is who was responsible for the most negative element of the 2010 campaign: the automated telephone calls and web site launched at the end of the July Republican primary attacking successful candidate Hank Huckaby.
The telephone calls and the web site contained grossly misleading information about a statement Huckaby had made in the June 3 candidate forum sponsored by the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce.
Neither the telephone message nor the web site indicated who was responsible, and state law does not require such disclosure.
Among the three Republicans, Huckaby, Kirk Shook and Tommy Malcom, Huckaby spent the most in his campaign. The total figure, according to his Dec. 31, 2010, Campaign Contributions Disclosure Report, was $71,594. Huckaby filed that report on Jan. 7, 2011.
Shook spent $13,099, according to his final report, filed on Dec. 31, while and Malcom spent $8,551. Malcom filed his December report on Jan. 1, 2011.
All reports are available for review on the web site of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Committee, formerly known as the State Ethics Commission.
Huckaby and Malcom are from Oconee County, while Shook is from Crawford in Oglethorpe County.
Democratic candidate Suzy Compere, from Bostwick in Morgan County, did not file the required campaign financial statements for September, October and December.
In June, when Compere filed her sole statement, she indicated she had neither raised nor spent any money. She was required by law to include the $400 filing fee in her June campaign report but did not.
She also is required by law to file a statement for the three campaign periods she missed and can be fined for not doing so.
I removed from the total of $93,244 in spending in 2010 a $50,000 loan that Huckaby made to his campaign and repaid, as well as a $2,500 loan that Shook made to his campaign and then repaid and $500 that Malcolm made to his campaign and repaid.
If those figure are left in, the spending for the campaign was $146,244.
Malcom actually lent his campaign $6,819 and raised $1,732 in outside money. At the end of his campaign, he showed a balance of zero.
Shook lent his campaign $5,000 and raised $13,099. His final report shows no reserves.
Huckaby raised $81,745 independent of his loan to his campaign of $50,000. He ended the campaign with $10,151 in reserves.
The comparison of the $93,244 in spending in 2010 with the $119,720 spent by Smith and Vaughn in 2006 is not affected by the removal of the loans from the calculations. Neither Smith nor Vaughn lent money to their campaigns in 2006.
Smith, first elected to the House in 1998, retired after the 2010 session, resulting in the three-way primary contest in 2010.
Malcom spent $6,569 in various forms of advertising, including for yard signs, newspaper advertisements and direct mailing costs. These calculations come from the classification by Malcom himself of expenses of more than $100 per item.
State law requires candidates to list each expense of more than $100.
The advertising expenses made up 90 percent of the itemized expenses Malcom reported.
Malcom did not use a consultant.
Shook spent $8,628 on various forms of advertising, or 68 percent of his itemized expenses.
Shook spent $3,000 on consulting from Landmark Communications, a Duluth political consulting firm. In fact, Shook paid Landmark for much of his advertising, so the actual amount of money that Shook lists as spending with Landmark was $9,659, or 77 percent of his total itemized campaign spending.
Smith used Landmark as consultant in 2006 and 2008, according to his campaign finance reports for those years.
According to Huckaby’s campaign reports, he spent $49,438 on advertising, which amounted to 83 percent of his itemized spending.
Huckaby indicates he spent $10,600 on his consultant, The Brand, of Grayson, or 15 percent of his total itemized spending.
Huckaby also lists other campaign services companies, including The Stoneridge Group of Buford and Brasstown Strategies of Young Harris, on his itemized expenditure sheet.
Huckaby chose to respond to the attack telephone campaign, Hank Likes Taxes, with his own rebuttal, though the itemized expenses do not provide enough detail to indicate who provided the service or how much it cost.
The attack campaign used both a computerized autodialer and a computer-delivered pre-recorded message to accuse Huckaby of “liking taxes.” Such a call is referred to as a "robo call" on the grounds it resembles a telephone call by a robot.
The telephone call directed voters to a web site, hanklikestaxes.com, and that site mentioned Shook favorably by name. It said that Shook had challenged Huckaby on his record on abortion.
Shook and his campaign consultant, Gabriel Sterling, told me they did not have any responsibility for or advance knowledge of the robo calls or the creation of the web site.
Nothing in Shook’s campaign finance report gives any indication that he was connected to the call or the web site.
I was among those who received the automated telephone call. I was not at home, but my answering maching recorded the message at 4:59 p.m. on July 15, the last Thursday before the July 20 primary election.
The message said that Huckaby was not a conservative and played an audio clip of Huckaby saying “I won’t say that I will never raise taxes.”
I called Shook on his mobile phone while he was vacationing in Florida on July 28, and he said the first he knew of the robo call was on July 15, when the campaign was launched.
“I didn’t buy any robo calls,” he said. “I don’t like them anyway. I was as shocked as anybody else.”
He said he has no connection to the web site or the robo calls and did not have any idea who was responsible for them.
I talked by telephone in early August with Sterling, Shook’s campaign consultant, who is vice president of Landmark Communications.
Sterling said Landmark was not in any way connected with the robo call and he did not have any idea it was in the works until after it had been done.
“If we want to attack somebody, we just attack,” he said.
Stacey Kalberman, executive secretary of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, told me that there is nothing in Georgia law that requires identification of the source of advertisements, which would include the robo call and the web site.
The robo call used an audio clip from the June 3 Oconee County Chamber of Commerce campaign forum, and the web site used a video image from that same meeting.
Zoe Gattie, manager of the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, told me that only two people were video recording the meeting.
One of them was Sarah Bell, an Oconee County citizen, who was using my video camera.
I compared the image on the web site with the image recorded by Bell with my camera. I had uploaded that image to my Vimeo site, so it could have been used by the creator of the robo call and the web site.
Examination of the two images shows that the web image from hanklikestaxes.com was shot from a slightly different angle than the image on the video recorded with my camera by Bell.
Gattie told me that she thought Oconee County Republican Party Chairman Jay Hanley would know who the other videographer was.
Hanley told me that Shook had arranged for someone to video record the Chamber forum.
I contacted Shook on Aug. 13, and he told me that Justin Melick of Kennesaw shot the video for him.
“Ours wasn’t very good,” Shook said. Shook said he wanted to use video from the Chamber forum on his own web site, kirkshook.com.
Shook said a third person also was video recording but that he never was able to find the third videographer.
Bell told me she also thought a third person was taking pictures, probably video, during at least some parts of the meeting.
Bell, who is active in the Oconee County Republican Party and knows Shook, said Shook never contacted her and asked to use her video.
Shook gave me a telephone number for Melick, and I spoke with him on Aug. 13.
Melick said he had the video. “I did it as a favor for Kirk,” he said.
He said the video was recorded in high definition and that it was long and in a format that made it difficult to share. He said he would convert it for me and let me know when it was available.
He also gave me an email address.
I tried to reach him repeatedly by phone and by email for the next several weeks. He never took the calls or answered the email.
On Aug. 30 I used my wife’s cell phone to call, and Melick answered. He said he was still working on the video.
“I had to try to figure out a way to get the format where we can somehow get the size that we can work with,” he said. “I’m not having any luck. It is so huge. It might be another few days before I can come up with something.”
Melick confirmed that the email address he gave me was correct and that he had been receiving my voice and email messages.
I sent him another email message the following day and he confirmed receipt by email.
I sent Melick another email message on Sept. 19. I have never heard any more from him.
I searched for Melick on the web using the email address he gave me and found a Facebook page on which a Justin Melick lists his “affiliation” as with Justin Melick Film Productions.
The Melick Facebook page links to two YouTube videos, one listed as being shot on Dec. 22 of 2010 and the other with a date of Feb. 3, 2010. The second is called a Justin Melick film.
An analysis of the video of the June 3 candidate forum shows the gross simplification and distortion that the robo call and web site presented.
WGAU newsman Tim Bryant moderated the Chamber Forum on June 3 and asked the question that became the springboard for the Hank Likes Taxes attack.
At the session, Bryant said he was having trouble reading the question, which he said was written by someone with handwriting worse than his own.
The question was presented as from the audience, which contained supporters of the candidates as well as their staffs.
Bryant asked: “Have you signed a pledge not to raise taxes?”
Shook got the question first, and he said he had signed the no tax pledge.
Democrat Compere was second, and she said she had not signed the pledge.
Malcom, next up, also said he had not signed the pledge but he was opposed to tax increases.
Huckaby was next, and he said that in a recession “We’re not going to raise taxes. That would be counterproductive.”
But Huckaby added:
“I won’t say that I would never raise taxes because there might be a situation in which, to make the system fairer, more equitable for every people, for all our people, you might raise one tax but lower other taxes.”
Incumbent Sen. Bill Cowsert, running unopposed but also on the platform at the Chamber forum, followed Huckaby and said he would not sign the pledge. He agreed with Huckaby that it might be necessary to make tax adjustments that some would characterize as a tax increase.
The full video of the exchange is available on my Vimeo site.
The robo call included none of the nuance of Huckaby’s answer, saying only that Huckaby “won’t promise that he won’t raise your taxes.”
The full audio message, recorded from my answering machine, is here.
The hanklikestaxes web site was even harder hitting.
It began with the headline “Hank Likes Taxes” and followed with two subheads: “Democrat Insider/Bureaucrat, Running as a Republican to Win Office” and “In the House District 113 Republican Primary there is a big difference between the candidates.”
Beneath these was this short video clip:
The web site contained an image of Rich Whitt’s book, “Behind the Hedges,” which is critical of University of Georgia President Michael Adams. The web site said Huckaby was a “key player” in “corruption at the University of Georgia.”
The site claimed that Huckaby had supported Democratic candidates financially through his career, citing www.opensecrets.org and www.ethics.ga.gov as sources.
Those sources show that Huckaby did support Democrats, but he also has made contributions to Republican Congressman Paul Broun’s campaign since 2008, and the Hank Likes Taxes web site did not mention that.
The site also had links to four stories from onlineathens.com, the web site of the Athens Banner-Herald. The tease to the stories asserted that Huckaby favored raising property taxes, favored a stormwater fee for Clarke County, and was “under an ethical cloud” because of a bonus paid to University of Georgia President Adams.
The web site was active as late as Aug. 11, and I was able to download the video clip on that date. I had talked with Melick about the video on Aug. 13.
I checked the site again on Aug. 21, and it was no longer active.
I have tried to find the web site in various web archives since without success.
I also have tried to determine who bought and registered the handlikestaxes.com web site.
The site hanklikestaxes.com was registered through LuckyRegister on July 7, 2010, with an expiration date July 7, 2011.
The registration was last updated on July 15, 2010. It was registered at Domains By Proxy, Inc., a company at 15111 N. Hayden Road, Suite 160, Scottsdale, Ariz.
It is not possible to learn who purchased or owns the domain name.
Shook’s campaign web site, kirkshook.com, was registered by a company in Toronto.
Whoever built the web site had to invest quite a bit of time to find the information on Huckaby, create the links, edit and upload the video and build the remainder of the copy.
Purchasing the domain name and hosting a web site, however, would not be expensive.
Rates for the purchase of domain names vary, but the GoDaddy.com web site this weekend offered to sell me hanklikestaxes.net for $12.99 per year. GoDaddy informed me that hanklikestaxes.com is not available.
GoDaddy offered unlimited bandwidth and storage for the web site at $14.99 per month.
Anyone with political contacts could find someone to create and launch a robo call.
Jeremy Brand, who served as a campaign consultant to Huckaby and worked with him on the response to the robo call attack, told me that the rate for robo calls of about 30 seconds in length is usually about 5 cents per completed call.
Huckaby said in his rebuttal robo call that an automated call had been made to voters “lying about me and my record.” Huckaby said the call came “from one of my opponents who didn’t have the courage to put their name on it.”
In the message Huckaby asked voters to call him if they had any questions and gave his number. He told me he got only one or two calls as a result.
The audio recording of that rebuttal is here.
Huckaby got 50.9 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, or just enough to avoid a run-off. Malcom got 30.2 percent and Shook got 18.9 percent.
The race was tightest in Oconee, which falls entirely in the 113th, and where Huckaby got 46.8 percent to 34.3 percent for Malcom and 18.8 percent for Shook. Huckaby and Malcom live in Oconee County, while Shook is from Oglethorpe County.
Huckaby got 58.8 percent of the vote in Oglethorpe County, 58.1 percent in Morgan County and 66.8 percent in Clarke County.
The fall campaign was uneventful. Compere never mounted a visible campaign.
Huckaby got 72.5 percent of the vote overall, carrying Oconee with 80.0 percent, Morgan with 76.2 percent, Oglethorpe with 72.3 percent, and Clarke with 52.1 percent.
Smith defeated Vaughn, who did mount a campaign, back in 2006 with 61.1 percent of the vote.
Candidates are required to list campaign contributions of more than $100 on the finance reports.
Huckaby, a former administrator at the University of Georgia, received contributions from many at the university, including from President Adams, Provost Jere Morehead and former Provost Arnett Mace.
Most of the money Huckaby raised came in early, giving him the resources he needed to launch his advertising campaigns.
Shook’s largest contribution of $2,000 was from American Federation for Children, Georgia Division. According to the organization’s web site, it is an advocacy group for school choice.
Malcom’s campaign was largely self-financed.
Both Shook and Malcom are teachers.
The Hank Likes Taxes robo call and web site stood out in the 2010 campaigns, but there were other oddities.
Superior Court Judge David Sweat, running for re-election in a nonpartisan campaign, sent out an endorsement by Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry. Sweat used the post office box of the county jail for the return address of the endorsement letter.
According to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, even storing campaign signs in a government office or placing fliers on a government desk is a violation of the state’s ethics law.
Sherilyn Streicker, the deputy executive secretary of what was then the State Ethics Committee, told me in October that, in her view, the use of the return address alone did not constitute a contribution to a campaign.
Pamela Hendrix who was challenging Sweat, also took the unusual tactic of focusing on Sweat’s religion.
She did this first in a story by Mike Sprayberry, a reporter for The Oconee Leader. Sprayberry quoted her in an article on Oct. 14 as saying “people need to be aware of their judge’s backgrounds. I’m a member of Ashford Memorial Methodist and my opponent attends Universal Unitarian Fellowship and there’s a difference.”
She repeated that line in response to a question from me about what differentiates her from Sweat. She said “I attend Ashford Memorial Methodist Church; he attends the Universal Unitarian Fellowship.”
Neither of them accused the other of liking taxes.
And there was no mystery of the third videographer.