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Bell leads in fund-raising in chairman's race

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Among the candidates running for the Board of Commissioners Chairman's seat -- who have filed campaign disclosure reports -- incumbent Eldrin Bell is leading the pack in terms of financial support.

The most recent records show that Bell has taken in $128,867.54 in contributions, as of June 30. He has has spent nearly $104,000, a substantial portion of that going to Landmark Communications, a political consulting firm.

"Landmark is my overall campaign consultant," said Bell. "I've tried the campaign manager approach and that didn't work."

Bell has received donations from political action committees (PACs) in Georgia and Florida, consulting and engineering firms, and several prominent citizens, including Peachtree Homes developer, Hugh Morton, Lake Spivey Golf Course owner, Joe Hamilton, and Clayton County Commissioner Michael Edmondson.

Morton, Hamilton, and Edmondson donated $245, $250, and $150, respectively. Perhaps the largest single contributor to Bell's campaign, however, is former Georgia governor, Roy Barnes, who gave $2,300, personally, while his law firm, the Barnes Law Group in Marietta, also contributed $2,300.

Disclosure records show that the campaigns of Earl Randall, former chief of staff in the Clayton District Attorney's Office, and Phaedra Graham, former mayor of Riverdale, trailed the field in their fund-generating efforts.

Out of the four candidates who filed, Graham raised the least amount of money, a total of $5,215.41. Graham received five donations from private citizens, totaling $3,950, and much of the rest of her listed funds were "monetary, in-kind" contributions from the candidate herself.

The majority of Graham's campaign money was spent on the qualifying fee, which was $3,940.41. Graham also spent $722.85 on postcards, envelopes, and campaign signs, leaving the campaign with $419.56.

Graham said, however, that she believes her campaign has steam, and she is relying on her support-base. "Reaching the voters means utilizing all resources, which can include signs, word of mouth, etcetera," said Graham. "With a dedicated team of supporters, the campaign has been, and will be, able to move forward. We look forward to taking the first step of change for Clayton County."

While Randall was able to raise $6,617 -- slightly more than Graham -- the Randall campaign has exhausted most of its funds. The report shows only $85.61 left in the account. With the exception of $950 in donations from Claudie Randall, his mother, and Catherine Beasley, his mother-in-law, Randall's campaign has been personally funded.

It's not always about the money," said Randall. "My strategy has been to go out to the voters. I feel that not having the money to do some of the things I would have liked to have done ... I really feel like I know the heart of the people.

"A lot of times in government, we make assumptions about what the people need," Randall continued. "It's important that we get out in the community and talk to them about what are the issues. One of the other reasons I don't have a lot of money is because I refuse to take money from any developers, or people that do business with the county," said Randall.

Virginia Gray, according to disclosure records, lent nearly $50,000 of her own money to her campaign. Gray's total funds are listed as $64,006.91, so far, which includes a $49,659,91 personal loan to her campaign.

She has spent all but $9,353.10, with $15,000 going to Process Posters Inc., in Atlanta, for campaign signs and $25,055.33 to Sunbelt Graphic Systems, in Fayetteville, for T-shirts, printing and mailing. Gray's campaign also paid former state representative Frank Bailey $4,278.88 for the rental of a "campaign headquarters."

Major contributors to Gray's campaign include: J. Charley Griswell, former BOC chairman ($500) C. Crandle Bray, an attorney and another former BOC chairman ($1,000); Mark Griswell, J. Charley Griswell's son, a real estate manager ($500); Doug Bonner, a member of the Clayton County Water Authority Board of Directors ($500); and John D. Stephens, the businessman who sold the Clayton school system the land in a controversial deal that still has many residents rasing questions about the agreement ($1,000).

Even though Tuesday marked the end of the five-day grace period in which candidates in the July 15 primary could file their disclosures without being fined for lateness, candidate Lee Scott had apparently not complied.

"He's a non-filer at this point," said Lucille Pettaway, a Clayton County elections and registration official, about Scott, a real estate investor who ran unsuccessfully against Michael Edmondson for the District 4 commission seat in 2006.

"It can be post-marked by the eighth [of July], and if we receive it ... then it's OK, but at this point, it is late," she said.

While fines for late or non-filers are nominal, the State Ethics Commission looks unfavorably on candidates with a history of non-compliance. Scott -- who has several expensive billboards lining major county thoroughfares -- paid a $25 fine for missing a filing date in his campaign for District 4 commissioner, according to the State Ethics Commission web site. He also has an unpaid fine of $25 for a late filing on March 31 of this year.

Scott did not respond to e-mails or phone calls, and could not be reached for comment.

Other candidates also have a history of late-filing or non-compliance fines. Randall has yet to pay a $75 fine for failing to file a campaign disclosure report on March 31, 2004, records show. Graham paid a $75 fine for filing a month late in her unsuccessful bid for re-election as mayor of Riverdale, according to records. Since 2004, Gray has paid a total of $200 in late fines.

Gray initially returned a reporter's call, but said she would have to call back with comments. That later call was not received.