Oconee County Representative Marcus Wiedower is one of eight Republicans on the Georgia House Natural Resources and Environment Committee who have reported receiving a campaign contribution in the last cycle from Twin Pines Minerals, the Birmingham, Ala., firm seeking a permit to surface mine near the Okefenokee Swamp.
Wiedower and four other Republicans on the 24-member Committee also reported receiving campaign funds from the Macon-based Georgia Mining Association Committee for Good Government, which supports state legislation for mining in the state.
The House Natural Resources and Environment Committee on which Wiedower and these other recipients of funding from Twin Pines and the Georgia Mining Association sit is considering legislation that would ban the state from issuing future permits for mining near the Okefenokee Swamp.
Eighteen House members have joined to sponsor that legislation, House Bill 1289--13 of them Republicans and five of them Democrats. Five of the sponsors (two Republicans and three Democrats) are on the Natural Resources and Environment Committee
Wiedower is not a sponsor, nor is Houston Gaines, who also represents Oconee County in the Georgia House. Gaines, also a Republican, is not on the Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
The $250 that Wiedower received from Twin Pines and the $250 he received from the Georgia Mining Association make up a relatively small amount of the $84,900 that Wiedower reported receiving in the seven months from July 1 of last year to Jan. 31 of 2022.
Wiedower ranks fifth among the 24 members of Natural Resources and Environment Committee in amount of campaign money raised in the last seven months and second in amount of campaign cash on hand.
House Bill 1289
The 18 sponsors filed House Bill 1289 on Feb. 8, and so far no votes have been taken by the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
The lead sponsor is Darlene Taylor, a Republican from Thomasville, representing the 173 House District in the southwestern part of the state.
The listed sponsors serve districts ranging from Rome to Coastal Georgia, with metropolitan Atlanta well represented.
Wiedower and Gaines represent parts of Clarke County as well as Oconee. Clarke County's third representative, Democrat Spencer Frye, also is not a sponsor.
House Bill 1289 would prohibit the Georgia Environmental Protection Division of the Natural Resources Department “from issuing, modifying, or renewing any permit or accepting any bond to conduct surface mining operations on the geological feature known as Trail Ridge between the St. Marys and Satilla Rivers.”
Twin Pines Minerals already has submitted applications to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for five state permits it needs for its proposed titanium surface mine on Trail Ridge southeast of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
A decision on those permits is pending, and House Bill 1289 would not affect that application.
Opposition to the 740-acre demonstration project has been extensive, from groups such as the Southern Environmental Law Center, 100 miles, a coastal advocacy group, and the Georgia River Network.
Georgia River Network is based at 126 South Milledge Ave., in Athens, just inside Gaines’ 117th House District, across the street from Frye’s 118th House District, and a short distance from Wiedower’s 119th House District.
Twin Pines’ Contributions
Twin Pines’ largest contribution to a member of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee in the Jan. 31, 2022, Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report was $2,250 to John Corbett from Lake Park in Lowndes County, in south central Georgia on the Florida border.
|From Application Materials Submitted To|
United States Army Corps of Engineers
The Georgia Mining Association also gave Corbett $500.
Twin Pines gave Committee Chair Evelyn “Lynn” Smith $500, and The Georgia Mining Association gave her another $500. Lynn Smith is from Newnan in Coweta County, southwest of Atlanta.
Twin Pines also gave $500 to Robert Dickey of Musella, in Crawford County, in the center of the state, and to Jan Tankersley from Brooklett in Bulloch County, northeast of Savannah.
Tankersley is the only recipient of funding from Twin Pines or the Georgia Mining Association who signed on as a sponsor of HB 1289.
Dickey received $250 from the Georgia Mining Association, but Tankersley did not receive any funding from that group.
Twin Pines gave $250 to Joe Campbell of Camilla, Matthew Gambill of Cartersville, Sam Watson of Moultree, and Wiedower.
Georgia Mining gave contributions of $250 to Dickey of Musella, Natural Resources and Environment Committee Vice Chair Vance Smith of Pine Mountain, and Wiedower.
The Natural Resources and Environment Committee is made up of 18 Republicans and six Democrats.
The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission is in the process of changing how Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports are filed.
At present, legislators can use the old system or the new one.
I was not able to find the Jan. 31 reports, which covers the period of July 1 of 2021 through Jan. 31 of this year, for Republican Noel Williams Jr. of Cordele and Democrat Karla Drenner of Avendale Estates.
The last record I could find for Williams was a July 3, 2021, an amendment to his Jan. 31, 2021 report. For Drenner, the last record I could find was for June 30 of 2021.
The search procedures in both the old and new system of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission is primitive, and it is possible I missed the records for Williams and Drenner.
I found Williams under "Williams Jr." rather than Williams, and could only find Lynn Smith once I realized her legal name is Evelyn, though she uses Linn as her official state listing.
Wiedower raised $84,900 during the seven months leading up to Jan. 31, following Richard Smith of Columbus with $160,649, Terry England of Auburn with $125,763, Matthew Gambill of Cartersville with $95,395, and Lynn Smith of Newnan with $93,060.
Wiedower is in his second term as state representative.
Richard Smith has been in his seat since 2005.
England is chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and also has been in the Georgia House since 2005. England has announced he will not seek re-election this year.
Gambill also is a newcomer to the House, with his term starting in 2019, as is the case for Wiedower.
Lynn Smith has been in the Georgia House since 1997.
The top 10 Committee members in terms of campaign funds raised in the last seven months are all Republicans.
In terms of cash on hand, Wiedower, with $135,704, is second to Richard Smith of Columbus with $244,548.
The top 12 Committee members in terms of cash on hand are Republicans.
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