By Joel Hall
Faced with a deadline of July 8 for candidates in the July 15 primary to file their campaign disclosure forms, candidates in Clayton County are slow to file, while candidates in Henry are moving more swiftly.
Disclosure forms can provide a telling look into a candidate's campaign, showing how much money he or she has raised, which individuals or groups have supported the campaign, and how wisely (and legally) campaign finances have been spent. The official deadline for disclosure forms was June 30, with the candidates are granted a grace period of five business days.
The grace period allows candidates to wait until next Tuesday to file their forms without being fined by the State Ethics Commission. Lillie Suder, an elections and registration official for Clayton County, said that some candidates are using all of the time available.
"We don't have a lot right now," said Suder. Out of more than 80 local candidates, only 15 had filed disclosure reports as of Wednesday. Ten of those filling were candidates for the Clayton County school board.
"I think it's something that they just put off," said Suder. However, "we've got some this time who have been very diligent about doing them right. A lot of them have a lot of campaign contributions."
Next door, Gerry Miller, an elections official with the Board of Elections of Henry County, said about half of the 24 candidates filed their disclosure reports on time.
"Nobody wants to pay the fine," which is $25 after July 8 and another $50 after 15 days, said Miller.
District 78 State Rep. Wade Starr (D-Fayetteville), who is not seeking re-election, thinks the delays can be attributed to newness. "In Clayton County, you have a lot of new candidates who are just getting familiar," with the forms, said Starr.
"Taking advantage of the grace period doesn't provide any strategic advantage," Starr said. "It doesn't say anything about the quality of the candidates."
Jason Harper, Henry County Board of Commissioners Chairman, who also is not running again, suspects some candidates want to project high fund-raising numbers, and "claim victory in the fund-raising."
Harper said some candidates "infer to people that they have more support by the fact that they have raised more money."
The grace period of July 8 gives the public only one week to sift through disclosure forms before making a decision about a candidate.
Rick Thompson, executive secretary for the State Ethics Commission, said the system of filing disclosures on paper is outdated. He believes candidates should mimic the state and file electronically.
"If you're talking about paper, with the number of candidates who are filing, it's not enough time," said Thompson. "If it's electronic filing ... then a week is more than enough time." The disclosures would be accessible on the commission's web site.
The State Ethics Commission has tried unsuccessfully for two years to get legislative support for electronic filings. Senate Bill 243, sponsored by District 45 State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), has been opposed by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA). The GMA believes many rural governments are ill-equipped to switch to electronic filings, said Amy Henderson, GMA's public information manager.
"A number of cities in Georgia just don't have the technology for it. It is another unfunded mandate for the cities ... to file electronically." She said the measure would disadvantage rural candidates and citizens without Internet access.
"You're basically saying, to run for a city position that you have to have an Internet connection," said Henderson. "With this bill, this information would be filed with the Ethics Commission in Atlanta ... if you don't live in that community and you don't have access to the Internet, you won't be able to see those disclosures."
Candidates will be required to give subsequent disclosures on Sept. 30, Oct. 25, and Dec. 31. If either the July 15 primary, or the Nov. 4 election produce runoffs, the reports will be due six days before the runoff dates set for Aug. 5, and Dec. 2.
If, before July 15, candidates get a contribution of $1,000 or more, they are required to disclose the amount in a two-day business report.