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The Jolt: Looking behind some puffed-up campaign finance reports


To paraphrase Mr. Twain, human beings are capable of three kinds of falsehoods: Lies, damned lies -- and campaign finance reports.

There’s often more than first meets the eye to candidate tallies of how much money they’ve raised, from whom, and where it’s been spent.

Take the disclosure filed this week by Stacey Abrams, the
Democratic candidate for governor. The former House minority leader has raised $2.3 million and reported about $460,000 in cash on hand, a burn-rate of about 80 percent – which she says represents her campaign’s emphasis on early get-out-the-vote
operations.

But only about $180,000 of Abrams’ cash on hand is actually available for her Democratic primary fight with former state lawmaker Stacey Evans. The rest is earmarked for contests farther down the road, including a (highly unlikely) primary runoff and the general election.

Evans reports collecting nearly $2.3 million dollars to date, with over $1.5 million on hand for the May 22 primary. She also listed a $1 million loan to her own campaign that helped her keep pace with Abrams.

But tucked deeper into her disclosure was another $250,000 check she wrote to her campaign. Which means that 54 percent of her campaign dollars have come from her own pocket.

Businessman Clay Tippins, a GOP candidate for governor, had some interesting math, too. He amassed $2.1 million, including a $450,000 loan from himself, and now boasts $1.7 million in cash on hand. But about $490,000 of that sum is set for the runoff or the general election.

And former state Rep. Geoff Duncan, a candidate for lieutenant governor, had some financial jujitsu. He tweeted that he raised $720,000 but what he left out was that he loaned himself about half of that sum.

***

Even Donald Trump’s most prominent Georgia ally breaks with the president every once in a while.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that he’s not a fan of Trump’s idea to hold a parade of military might a la China or Russia.

"He's the president of the United States,” Perdue told reporters. “Personally, I would prefer not to do it, but he's the president.” 

Perdue was a little more diffident than some GOP critics. "Confidence is silent. Insecurities are loud,” said U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “When you are the most powerful nation in all of human history, you don’t have to show it off like Russia does, like North Korea and China." 

***

Last August, state Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, alerted his colleagues to a potential 2018 campaign issue.

For several years, the state of Georgia had picked up the $93 tab for one advance placement test for every low-income student. High scores on the tests can earn a student college credit – and this make chasing a degree more affordable.

But the state had quietly dumped that policy, and proposed paying for one AP test for any student, regardless of income, but only if the field of study is technology-related. Students of the arts, history, or other topics need not apply.

Wilkerson now informs us that $408,000 in a supplemental budget bill passed by the House this week will go toward non-STEM AP exams for students who receive free or reduced-priced lunches.

Wilkerson gave credit to state Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees spending on K-12 education.

*** 

In both the House and Senate, rules committee chairmen are among the most important figures in the state Capitol. Occasionally, they can also sound like that home room teacher you once had. On Wednesday, our AJC colleague Mark Niesse caught House Rules Chairman John Meadows, R-Calhoun, berating the absenteeism of his colleagues:

"Rules (Committee) starts at 9 o'clock. I don't really give a flip what other meeting you have. If you are a chairman and you are having a nine o'clock meeting, that means it's more important than being on this committee. I'm going to let you make the choice. I don't want to hear, 'Oh I have another meeting.' If you have another meeting, you can get off this committee. Real simple — if you don't want to be on here, I don't want you. And I'm the best chairman there is. Any argument?"

***

The state Senate Press Office sent a scathing email Wednesday to a TV reporter -- and blind-copied the entire Georgia Capitol press corps for good measure.

The main recipient was CBS 46 reporter Giovanna Drpic, who twice “ambushed” a senator who refused to talk to her. The letter, penned by Senate aide Steve Tippins, said Drpic was asked for a meeting with the chamber’s officials to explain her position but that she responded by “barging in with your cameraman and insisted on rolling film.” 

“We would never dare chill speech; as a lawyer, I know that a free press matters too much in a well-ordered republic,” Tippins wrote. “The ‘freedom of press’ is not, however, all-encompassing. It does not, for example, extend to the media credentials that are given here by agreement.”

***

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., joined several of his Senate colleagues on Wednesday in calling for the creation of a special committee to investigate the U.S. Olympic Committee and Gymnastic USA for its handling of sexual abuse allegations. Gymnastics USA physician Larry Nassar has been sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison for systematically sexually abusing gymnasts over several decades. 

The only woman in Georgia’s congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, separately called for an investigation last month.

It’s worth noting that the Gymnastics USA case has some very specific Georgia roots.

***

President Trump on Wednesday tapped political ally Alveda King, the niece of civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr., for a position on the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission, which is planning the festivities to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolitionist’s birth. 

But it appears that someone at the White House lacks spell check. The official announcement misspelled Douglass’ name -- using a single “s.”

This isn’t Trump’s first misstep with Douglass. Around this time last year, the president appeared to imply that Douglass was still alive.

Our AJC colleague Ernie Suggs has more about Alveda King’s appointment here.

***

Congratulations are in order for two top aides to Gov. Nathan Deal, both of whom are pregnant and due this summer.

Deal communications chief Jen Talaber Ryan and policy guru Katie Childers announced the news in a faux press release proclaiming that “Project Childers and Project Ryan are on-track to be completed within their nine-month schedules.”

“Both ceremonies will be closed to the public,” it added. 

We’ve already put in an Open Records Act request to ferret out what incentives were dangled to land those projects. 

***

Everything in Washington has become Twitter fodder. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, used an aside made by Nancy Pelosi during her marathon floor speech on immigration as a twofer: An opportunity to dis the House minority leader and plug his northwest Georgia congressional district.

After the California Democrat mentioned that her allergies were acting up because of the carpet on the House floor, Graves fired up his Twitter account:


That link at the tail end will send you to the website of Calhoun-based carpet manufacturer Mohawk Flooring, a major employer in his district. 

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