With only a handful of local races on the ballot for June 9, Bartow’s top fundraiser for the 2020 primary elections so far is an incumbent facing no competition at the polls next month.
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor was the lone qualifier for the public office this year, a seat he’s held since 2013.
Per campaign contribution disclosure reports filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (GGTCFC) dated April 30, Taylor’s campaign reported $8,740 in contributions over the previous reporting period, bringing his total campaign contributions to date to $98,519.58.
Taylor also reported $8,301.65 in expenditures over the previous reporting period, bringing his total campaign expenses to date to $63,447.27. Heading into May, that left him with a total net balance on hand of $35,072.31.
The incumbent had a banner fundraising day on March 4, when the Committee to Elect Steve Taylor collected $21,500 from 21 individual donors, all of whom chipped in at least $1,000 to his campaign.
"At the time I had my fundraiser, a person had announced that they were going to oppose me in the commissioner's race, and you never know — even if that person doesn't run, someone else may run," Taylor told The Daily Tribune News. "It's kind of an automatic that you have the fundraiser before your election and before the deadline for qualifying ... I did raise more money than my expenses were, so that will carry onto my next term and the next election."
Among those contributing that day include H. Boyd Pettit III — who serves as legal counsel for the Development Authority of Bartow County, among other functions — Cartersville Bartow County Airport Authority Chairman Karl Lutjens and Cartersville City Councilman Jayce Stepp.
In some cases, those who donated to Taylor's campaign have also served on official County boards.
"Those board members that I appoint, they don't draw a salary," Taylor said. "I hope when they make a contribution to me it's because they're contributing to good government and there's not a conflict in my mind if everything's transparent — there's a big conflict if you take money and don't report it."
Donating $1,500 was Frank Murphy, owner of Atlanta-based Blue Ripple Property Management, while Ben Copeland of Lakeland, Georgia — listed as a partner for Patten Seed. Co. — contributed $1,000.
"I've never led anybody to think that if you make a contribution you can buy influence, but for $1,000, you're not going to buy much as far as influence goes," Taylor said. "They may look at it as a wise investment to keep pro-business people in office ... business people, as a whole, are basically investing, I think, in economies and communities and people that they would like to see run those communities, whether it's in a community they live in or a community they don't live in."
"Mr. Kitchen hasn't received anything from Bartow County as far as doing any kind of favors — in fact, I can't even think of one that he could ask for," Taylor said. "He's just another investor in Bartow County that likes the way this community's growing and he likes the way our business climate is in Bartow County, and I like to think I'm part of that business climate."
Yet the money kept coming in even after Taylor was cemented as the lone candidate for commissioner on March 7.
Real estate investor and Emerson City Councilman Ed Brush, property manager James Dellinger and Barnsley Resort owner Julian Saul each contributed $1,000 to Taylor’s campaign afterward. Two Atlanta businessmen — Tom Perdue of Perdue Group, Inc. and Vulcan Materials Vice President of Permitting and External Affairs Jimmy Fleming — likewise contributed $1,000 each to Taylor in mid-April; reports indicate he received a $500 contribution from Atlanta animal welfare advocate Virginia Milner on April 23.
"Those were people who were invited to the fundraiser that just hadn't mailed a check yet, in fact, there may be some more that come in that was invited to our fundraiser that wants to make a contribution," Taylor said. "After the qualifying they knew it was over, but they wanted to go ahead and make their contribution and that can go into my pot for the next election."
Other noteworthy contributors to Taylor’s campaign include former Georgia Representative Paul Battles ($150 on March 3), Century Bank of Georgia CEO Richard E. Drews ($500 on Feb. 21) and Americo Manufacturing Co. CEO Leonard Shutzberg ($250 on March 4.)
"Everybody that gives, almost, is in some kind of business, whether they're an attorney or a builder or just a small business person that likes the way the economy in Bartow County, for instance, is booming," Taylor said. "I've made contributions myself along the same lines — if it's somebody I think is going to do a good job, I may give them a campaign contribution."
As far as expenditures, the Taylor campaign reported spending $4,052 in Bartow County Republican Party qualifying fees on March 2. The campaign paid event planner Melanie Collier $2,500 on March 9 — that same day, Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse received $1,364.25, then another $250 on March 16.
Bartow County Elections and Voter Registration documents indicate that one individual, Barbara Sue Jackson, of Cartersville, filed a declaration of intent (DOI) to accept campaign contributions as part of a county commissioner bid on Jan. 27. Jackson, however, never qualified as a candidate.
Taylor said that fee very well could be a barrier to candidates entering the race for Bartow's sole commissioner seat. Still, he said it's a negligible amount compared to what he believes a candidate would have to spend in order to run a successful local campaign.
"If you're going to run for commissioner, that's a very small part of what it would cost you if you were opposed in the election," he said. "My estimate, if you ran for commissioner in Bartow County, it would probably cost you anywhere from $70,000-$100,000 ... it costs a lot of money to run a political race in Bartow County, not just for commissioner, but for all these other races, too."
Comparatively, the amount of money flowing into and out of the coffers of the Bartow County Sheriff candidates so far has been rather light.
According to a campaign contribution disclosure report signed May 6, incumbent Clark Millsap received $11,050 over the latest reporting period, with $1,550 coming in the form of individual contributions of $100 or less.
Documents indicate Millsap’s campaign received a $1,000 contribution from Augsburg Investments, LLC on March 9, with Wallace Sanford donating an equivalent amount on an unspecified date.
As with Taylor, quite a few of Millsap’s donors are attorneys, property managers and realtors. Among the business entities donating $500 a piece to his campaign so far include Southern Scapes, Harris Properties and Dagga Boy, LLC.
Millsap’s reported campaign expenditures come out to $7,505.26. He reported spending $4,173 on campaign apparel from Cartersville-based Image Wear on April 3; documents indicate his campaign spent $1,711.95 on services from McStatts' Printing on March 20 and $1,620.31 on services from Arco Ideas and Design, Inc. on April 27.
Disclosure reports filed by challenger James Morrell Jones, Sr. dated May 1 indicate the Bartow County Sheriff candidate has received $1,575 in campaign contributions to date, including a $1,000 donation from Adairsville realtor Stacy Stewart on April 21.
Jones, a former Bartow County Sheriff’s Office employee himself, also reported receiving a $225 donation from Sean and Kim Thompson on April 26 and a $250 donation from Preston Holloway on April 23.
The current owner of TKO BoxFit reported receiving a $1,000 campaign loan from himself on April 5. Jones’ reported expenses total $2,060.34, with McStatts' Printing receiving a little over $1,950 from the campaign for signs. The remainder of expenses, totaling $109.43, were paid to the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office for an expenditure described as “open records act”-related.
In the race to determine Bartow County Coroner, reports filed by incumbent Joel Guyton on May 6 indicate he received $3,530 in campaign contributions over the previous reporting period.
According to the disclosure form, Guyton’s campaign indicated 56 individuals have donated to his reelection bid, with each contributor giving less than $100. Guyton reported a final total net balance on hand of $179.37, with $3,350.63 reported in total campaign expenses.
Among other expenditures, Guyton reports $692 given to the Bartow County Republican Party on March 2 for qualifying fees, $300 given to Alan Sanders on Feb. 20 for “running my social media page" and roughly $2,350 in miscellaneous McStatts' Printing service costs.
As for challenger Gregory Free, Jr., the coroner candidate filed an affidavit with the GGTCFC on May 3, 2019, indicating an intent to not exceed $2,500 in campaign contributions and/or expenses. Additional records indicate he filed a DOI to accept campaign contributions on July 8, 2019.
When it comes to the two Bartow County Board of Education races, two District 4 candidates — Democratic challenger Dexter L. Jones and Republican contender Barry “Butch" Emerson — each filed affidavits declaring intentions to not exceed $2,500 in either campaign contributions or expenditures.
Meanwhile, District 4 Republican hopeful Roger L. Maier reported $4,777.08 in campaign contributions over the last reporting period, with itemized expenditures over that same timeframe totaling $4,766.21.
Per his latest campaign disclosure report, Maier contributed $2,037.90 to his own campaign on an unspecified date, while Robyn Maier contributed $2,239.18 to his campaign on April 20. Realtor Wanda Gray is listed as having donated $500 to the campaign on March 30.
Among other expenses, Maier’s campaign reports $1,631.75 spent on services from Rome-based Hi-Tech Signs, $2,239.18 spent on McStatts' mailers services and $125 given to Florida-based DataZapp for what is described as a “voter phone list.”
Whereas District 5 Bartow County Board of Education candidate Linda Dieterman filed an affidavit declaring no intentions of exceeding $2,500 in campaign contributions or expenses, incumbent Anna Sullivan reported $6,260.26 in total contributions over the previous reporting period.
Per her latest disclosure report, Sullivan contributed $4,105.63 to her own campaign on March 6; she donated another $1,805.63 to her own campaign on March 19.
Her disclosure reports indicate her campaign spent $1,805.63 on Eco Grafix, LLC services on both March 6 and March 19. The forms also indicate her campaign spent $909.50 at the Adairsville-based signs and graphics business on March 10.
Sullivan’s total campaign expenditures over the previous reporting period was listed as $4,635.26, leaving the campaign with a total net balance on hand of $1,874.74.