City DopeNews

Here’s Where Athens Political Candidates Are Getting Their Money

Credit: John Guccione via Pexels

Only two candidates for mayor—incumbent Kelly Girtz and challenger Mara Zúñiga—have raised a substantial amount of money, based on campaign finance disclosures candidates filed last week. But one Athens-Clarke County Commission candidate, John Culpepper, outraised them both despite running to represent just a tenth of the county. Both Zúñiga and Culpepper have substantial support from Republicans, records show.

Girtz reported raising $45,283 and spending $33,828 as of the end of April. Although he outraised Zúñiga, he was at a financial disadvantage with just $3,105 on hand, compared to her $18,643. That’s in part because Girtz has been paying campaign staffers, while Zúñiga has not. He has also been spending more money on advertising in several locally owned publications (including, full disclosure, $3,910 at Flagpole).

Some of Girtz’s notable contributors include Senior Judge David Sweat ($500), retired Probate Court Judge Susan Tate ($100), R.E.M. attorney and public education advocate Bertis Downs ($500), R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe ($3,000), Democratic former congressman John Barrow ($250), former mayor Heidi Davison ($100) and Democratic state Rep. Spencer Frye’s campaign committee ($1,000).

Zúñiga reported raising $29,178 and spending $10,535. She received $225 from current Athens GOP chair Gordon Rhoden and $701 from his wife, Joan, also a GOP activist. Two other former county Republican chairs also contributed to the former Athens GOP treasurer’s campaign: John Elliot gave $600 and John Padgett, who also formerly chaired the state Republican Party, gave $500. Car dealer Steve Middlebrooks and real estate broker Charlie Upchurch, co-founders of the Athens Classic group and the affiliated Athens Clean & Safe PAC formed to oppose progressive candidates, gave $2,500 and $2,800, respectively. Zúñiga also reported reimbursing Joan Rhoden $802 for website expenses.

Four other mayoral candidates—Pearl Hall, Fred Moorman, Mykeisha Ross and Bennie Coleman III—filed affidavits saying they raised less than $2,500, exempting them from filing campaign finance disclosures. Moorman’s was filed two days after the grace period ended May 9.

Coleman announced last week that he was dropping out of the race, citing health concerns and dissatisfaction with the issues brought up during the campaign. His name remains on the ballot, although no votes for him will count.

Culpepper reported raising $56,975 and had $27,712 on hand. Donors included Padgett ($500), Elliot ($100), Middlebrooks ($1,000), UGA football sideline reporter Loran Smith ($500), Republican Watkinsville Mayor Brian Brodrick ($250) and Democratic former commissioner Kathy Hoard ($250), along with a host of real estate agents and developers.

His District 7 opponent, Allen Jones, raised $16,434, including $100 from former ACC Democratic Committee chair Joe Wisenbaker, $100 from Al and Heidi Davison, $200 from Frye, $250 from Wallace, $500 from Democratic District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez and $1,500 from Democratic former mayor Gwen O’Looney and her husband, John. 

Middlebrooks donated $2,000 to Commission District 5 candidate Dexter Fisher, but liberal school board member Greg Davis also gave $100. Former sheriff Ira Edwards ($100) and civil rights lawyer Ken Dious ($250) also gave to Fisher, the soon-to-retire director of operations at the Clarke County School District. He was second among commission candidates with $25,110 raised.

Another District 5 candidate, former commissioner Jared Bailey, reported raising $6,550, including $1,000 from longtime planning commissioner Lucy Rowland and $250 from former ACC auditor John Wolfe. Fellow District 5 candidate Matt Pulver raised $5,551, including $250 from Democratic former state Rep. Jonathan Wallace and $100 from Jenny Denson, the wife of current District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson, now a candidate for school board.

Greg Davis is the campaign treasurer for District 1 incumbent Patrick Davenport, who raised $6,493. Fellow commissioner Allison Wright gave him $125. Opponent Audrey Hughes raised $4,280.

In District 3, Tiffany Taylor stated she was not required to file a disclosure because she raised less than $2,500. Asia Thomas initially filed a blank report with a list of donors and expenditures attached, some of which included only first names. In an amended report filed after Flagpole’s print deadline, Thomas stated she had raised $4,834. Middlebrooks was a top donor at $1,000.

Campaign finance disclosures can be accessed at

This article has been updated to add Moorman’s disclosure and correct the ending date of the grace period.