An Athens-Clarke County Commission candidate was propelled to victory in May by a record fundraising haul that exceeded even that of Mayor Kelly Girtz, according to final campaign finance documents that local candidates filed with the state this month.
John Culpepper eased up off the gas after the March/April reporting period ended, reporting raising just $3,076 in May, including $250 from state Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), who helped draw the new District 7 that allowed Culpepper to run for an open seat. Still, he raised $60,051 total and was able to spend nearly $30,000 down the home stretch.
Culpepper paid more than $14,000 to an Athens-based consulting firm called DGD Marketing during May, and spent thousands more on printing, mailers, catering and other campaign expenses. But it was $1,370 paid to Chick-Fil-A that caught former opponent Allen Jones’ eye.
Photos posted to a Culpepper campaign associate’s Facebook page showed Culpepper and Tamaine Jordan distributing Chick-Fil-A meals to students at Timothy Road Elementary School, which is in Commission District 7. The boxes were labeled with Culpepper’s campaign logo.
While legal as long as no votes were solicited or promised in exchange for the meals, distributing the boxed lunches appears to have violated Clarke County School District policy. One CCSD policy prohibits the distribution of political campaign materials on school grounds, except as allowed by law on Election Day if the school is a polling site, during a candidate forum held at a school or as part of a classroom lesson. Another prohibits employees from engaging in political activities during work hours. Jordan is a community engagement specialist at Cedar Shoals High School.
“We were made aware of this concern, and it has been investigated. We cannot comment on personnel matters,” CCSD communications specialist Scott Thompson said.
Culpepper told Flagpole that he received permission for the giveaway, and that he was only trying to do something nice for fifth-graders who were moving on to middle school.
Culpepper’s campaign contributed part of his bounty—$1,000—to fellow candidate Dexter Fisher’s campaign. Fisher defeated Matthew Pulver in a June 21 runoff partly on the strength of a nearly $13,000 haul in May and June, which included $1,500 from the Georgia Association of Realtors, $1,000 from co-founder of the conservative Athens Classic group Steve Middlebrooks, $200 from Commissioner Mike Hamby, $500 from retired county manager Alan Reddish and $250 from former commissioner Kathy Hoard, who also backed Culpepper. Overall, he raised $38,025.
Fisher not only received a donation from Culpepper, but they shared a campaign consultant. Fisher’s campaign made payments of $7,629 and $2,500 to DGD Marketing. Other expenses included food for campaign events, videos, radio ads and paying sign-wavers.
In contrast, Pulver raised just $10,917 for the entire campaign, including $5,366 between May 1 and June 21. His largest contribution was $1,000 from the Committee to Elect Mariah Parker.
Allen Jones raised $21,328 total and $4,894 after Apr. 30. Jones received contributions of $200 and $300 from Hamby and spent most of his funds on printing and mailing costs and streaming TV advertising.
In the mayor’s race, Girtz finished with $49,758, including $4,475 during the last three weeks of the campaign. His campaign disclosure was not listed in the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance database when the grace period for filing ended last week because, according to Girtz, it was accidentally sent to Atlanta without being notarized, but he provided a copy to Flagpole. His main opponent, Mara Zúñiga, reported raising $2,100 in May and $31,288 overall.
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