Bebe Heiskell

Excess donors:

Audia Group: $6,000*

Blevins Septic: $5,500

Elliott Davenport: $5,500

Bill Cooke: $5,250

Findlay’s Tall Timbers: $4,500

Ridgecrest Rossville, LLC: $4,000

Talley Construction: $4,000

Bill Byrd: $3,500

Burger King: $3,000

GB Health Management: $3,000

North Georgia Logistics: $3,000

James Mashburn: $3,000

Flegal Insurance Corp.: $3,000

Pointe General Contractors: $3,000

— Source: Bebe Heiskell campaign contribution forms

* Heiskell returned $400 of this $6,000 to Audia in June


Walker County, Ga., Commissioner Bebe Heiskell will have to return about one-fifth of contributions to her re-election campaign.

Fourteen contributors gave Heiskell more than the $2,600 she was allowed to receive for the Nov. 8 election. Those people and companies donated a combined $56,250 — $19,850 more than allowed under Georgia law. In total, including the excess payments, Heiskell has collected about $120,000.

Asked about the issue Friday, Heiskell said she wasn't sure about the total amount of money raised. She also said she had not heard any complaints except for a $3,000 contribution from Audia International on April 27. In response, Heiskell returned $400, knocking that donation down to $2,600. (Nobody had brought up a $3,000 contribution from Audia in July 2014.)

"I will look into this," she said.

The confusion arose from Heiskell's decision in March to seek re-election as an independent, after running as a Republican since taking office in 2001. She decided this year to run as an independent and avoid the primary, even though records show she had been raising money for that election since the summer of 2014.

Of the $120,000 she has received since then, $80,000 was intended to go toward her primary campaign. When she left the Republican Party to run as an independent, those contributions transferred to her general election fund, said Robert Lane, an attorney for the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

But even so, some contributors — like Audia — gave more than the $2,600 legal limit for the primary. Others made separate donations for the primary and general elections that totaled more than the limit for one race.

For example, Bill Cooke gave Heiskell $4,000 for the primary and $1,250 for the general election, campaign contribution records show. Ridgecrest Rossville, a company registered in Cooke's name, also gave $3,000 for the primary and $1,000 for the general. Another company in his name, North Georgia Communications, gave $1,000 each for the primary and the general.

Without making a ruling on Heiskell's case, Lane said candidates generally can be fined for taking too much money from contributors. They also have to return the excess funds.

"The commission has the authority to bring a case, investigate a case and do remedial measures to make sure people aren't exceeding contribution limits," Lane said. "If they do, the money is returned."

According to her most recent campaign contribution report, filed Oct. 7, Heiskell has $24,800 in cash on hand — not including any money she has raised since then. However, she might not have to give money back until after the election. Lane said the commission does not investigate these kinds of cases within 30 days of an election.

Heiskell's opponents criticized her Friday for not knowing she was in violation.

"We all have to follow the rules," said Shannon Whitfield, the Republican candidate. "She keeps talking about all the experience she has. She's been in government for 40 years. She should know what the rules are and not be playing these type of games with donors."

Perry Lamb, another independent candidate, said both his opponents are too reliant on campaign contributions. While Heiskell raised $120,000 and Whitfield raised $79,000, Lamb has taken in $2,400.

"When you got this amount of money that is being used for an election," he said, "there's going to be some kind of problems with it. The amount of money that has been spent on this election, to me, is absolutely obscene."

The candidates' next contribution reports are due the week after Oct. 25.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.