Republicans attack Bebe Heiskell for accepting too much money

Republicans attack Bebe Heiskell for accepting too much money

October 18th, 2016 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Bebe Heiskell

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Money raised, through Sept. 30

Bebe Heiskell: $123,661.74

Perry Lamb: $10,330.60*

Shannon Whitfield: $78,549.87

* Includes $7,950.60 from himself to his campaign

Excess contributions to Heiskell

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

* Heiskell returned $400 to Audia in June.

Georgia Republicans on Monday filed a complaint against Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell for accepting too much money from campaign donors.

Dean Kelley, the immediate past chairman of the Walker County GOP, and Rossville Precinct Chairman Mike Cameron told the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission that Heiskell needed to be investigated. A Times Free Press analysis of Heiskell's contribution reports since the beginning of 2013 show that 14 donors each gave more than the $2,600 limit for one election.

These donors gave a total of $56,250 — $19,850 more than allowed.

"Bebe continues to show us her disrespect for Georgia State law!" Shannon Whitfield, the Republican candidate for commissioner, wrote on his Facebook page Sunday. "This is just the latest chapter of Bebe snubbing her nose at the State of Georgia. Who in Atlanta is protecting Bebe?"

For her part, Heiskell has not admitted to taking excess donations.

"I am looking into the accusation and will address it once I have determined the full extent of the problem, if any," Heiskell wrote on her Facebook page Sunday.

If state officials act on Kelley's complaint, it won't happen until after the election. Robert Lane, an attorney for the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, said the agency does not investigate complaints within 30 days of a race to avoid influencing the outcome.

Heiskell wrote that complaints against her are premature because the state agency won't investigate whether she took in too much money until after the election. She also criticized Whitfield for taking $20,000 from four members of the Ledbetter family, who used to own Restaurant Enterprises.

Each member of the family gave Whitfield $5,000: $2,500 for his primary election and $2,500 for his general election. These donations are legal, but Heiskell said Whitfield circumvented "the spirit of the law."

"In essence he is just another Washington DC politician who find [sic] loopholes in the law while he accuses his opponent of such," Heiskell wrote.

The confusion over Heiskell's contributions arose because she decided to run as an independent candidate this year after running as a Republican in the last four elections. Before making that decision in March, Heiskell had collected money for the GOP primary for two years.

When candidates decide to skip the primary, Lane said, they can roll their contributions over to their general election funds. But they still have to abide by the maximum contribution limits for one race: $2,600. Here, some donors exceeded the allowable contributions by giving money for both races, even though Heiskell didn't compete in the Republican primary.

This only explains a fraction of the excess donations, though. Of the 14 contributors who gave too much money, according to the Times Free Press analysis, nine gave more than the $2,600 limit for the primary alone.

In her Facebook post, Heiskell blamed the confusion over her funding on Walker County Republican Party Chairman Matt Williamson. Heiskell said she collected the funds in 2014 and 2015 with the intention of running in the GOP Primary this May. But, she said, Williamson made it "virtually impossible" to win that race.

"Mr. Williamson admitted to promoting Mr. Whitfield over all other candidates before the primary," she wrote. "This in essence prevented many others from bothering to run. Therefore, when many of the contributions were collected I had no idea of what the future would hold."

Williamson said he did not promote Whitfield over other candidates. Some members of the local Republican party met in 2015, he said, and tried to come up with a consensus candidate for this year because they did not like the way Heiskell operated the county.

He said they chose Whitfield. But, he added, this was not an official Republican party action, even though some members of the party were involved. Williamson said he did not know about their meeting until after the fact.

In the primary, he said, he gave both Whitfield and his opponent, Mike Peardon, access to a database of voters. He didn't contribute to either primary campaign and invited them to an official debate — though Peardon decided to skip the event.

"I did not promote Shannon Whitfield over all the candidates before the primary," Williamson said. "I personally backed Shannon. But in my official capacity as Republican chairman, I did not support him over Mike Peardon."

Late Monday, Peardon said he felt Whitfield "was chosen by a select few to be the Republican candidate for Walker County Commissioner. I went into the race unaware of their intentions, but quickly caught onto what I saw their agenda was."

Perry Lamb, an independent candidate also running for commissioner, said Heiskell should immediately return the excess campaign contributions. At the same time, though, Lamb also criticized the local Republican party, saying its members are trying to take credit for discovering the issue.

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission can investigate a candidate without a formal complaint, though such an investigation is not guaranteed.

"If you break the rules, you have to pay the consequences," Lamb said. "[But] it obviously was not the Republican party that found it or knew anything about it."

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