How do you completely disrupt an election in Columbia County?
Just file an ethics complaint against your opponent and let the rumors fly.
This past week, a supporter for Joe Mullins, the local entertainment promoter and candidate for the House District 122 seat, decided to file a formal complaint against his opponent Mack Taylor.
Columbia County resident Otis Williams made an official complaint with the state Ethics Commission claiming that Taylor filed a false campaign disclosure. Basically, the Mullins camp is accusing Taylor and his campaign of helping to coordinate the hiring of a private investigator to look into Mullins’ residency status.
Over the past several weeks, questions have been raised as to whether Mullins even meets Georgia’s residency standards to qualify to run for the House District 122 seat previously held by state Rep. Ben Harbin.
The Columbia County News-Times reported last month that Mullins might have held valid driver’s licenses in the past two years in three different states: Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.
Now, Mullins has tried to brush off the accusations that he did not meet the state’s residency standards to run by saying, while he recently lived in Florida and North Carolina, he still maintained a primary address in Columbia County.
But this is the same man who argued, just a little more than a year ago, with the West Lake Country Club that he qualified for “non-resident status” because he lived in Florida.
Well, now a Mullins supporter has decided to fire back at Taylor and paint him an unethical candidate running for the House District 122 seat.
Of course, Taylor has completely denied any wrongdoings and another local businessman, Joe Edge, the president of Sherman & Hemstreet Real Estate Company, has come forward and insisted that he paid for the private investigator to look into Mullins’ background.
But the drama continues between the two male candidates as the Nov. 3 election approaches.
Meanwhile, the two female candidates in the District 122 race, Pat Goodwin and Jodi Lott, are simply sitting back and watching both the Mullins and Taylor campaigns implode.
However, this isn’t the first time folks in Columbia County tried to file ethics complaints against those running in office.
Remember former District 2 commission candidate Lee Benedict?
Just last year, he filed a complaint against Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. He accused Cross of receiving more than the maximum contribution from Blanchard and Calhoun executive Vic Mills.
Though the ethics commission found those charges unfounded, their investigation caused them to uncover some other issues regarding Cross’ campaign.
Cross did not file a personal financial disclosure for 2009 and 2011 and he was late filing his personal financial disclosure in 2010.
In September of 2014, Cross paid a $2,500 fine.
It’s was just a slap on the wrist, but it made a great headline for Benedict to use against Cross in the future.
Then, back in 2012, remember when Republican candidate Rick Allen was part of a bitter primary campaign against Evans attorney Wright McLeod for a congressional seat?
Soon after the first quarter financial disclosures were released in 2012 and showed McLeod had not only raised more money than Allen in total ($284,346) but also twice what Allen raised, the Allen campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission claiming several violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act.
Allen claimed McLeod was stealing donor information, accepting excessive contributions and failing to properly disclose expenditures.
All of a sudden people were questioning McLeod’s stellar reputation.
His 2012 campaign never fully recovered.
By the time the election rolled around for the U.S. House seat, former state Rep. Lee Anderson topped the four Republicans in the field with 34 percent of the vote and Allen squeaked into the runoff after a recount by earning 26 percent to McLeod’s 25 percent.
In the end, Anderson beat Allen in the runoff by just 159 votes, but eventually lost to incumbent John Barrow in the general election.
It wasn’t until September 2013 that McLeod was cleared of any wrongdoings.
In 2013, the Federal Election Commission dismissed all of the alleged violations filed by Allen against McLeod.
“Upon further review of the allegations contained in the complaint, and information supplied by you, the Commission, on September 10th, 2013, voted to find no reason to believe with respect to certain allegations, dismissed the remaining allegations and closed the file,” the FEC informed McLeod.
For McLeod, it was a victory, but an accusation that probably cost him the election.
“Justice prevailed,” McLeod stated in 2013. “This was an unnecessary and expensive legal fight in which the ethical allegations crossed the line, even by today’s standards. Instead of debating the issues, it became a fight over my integrity.
“The result, I was forced to defend my character, and the Republican Primary became a circular firing squad that caused the people of GA-12 to lose and John Barrow to win.”
Let’s just hope that other candidates around the Peach State don’t learn from Columbia County’s campaigns and decide it’s good political strategy to file an official ethics complaint against their opponent.
Ethics complaints are serious and should never be used as a campaign strategy.