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Bell brings in nearly $40K for re-election bid
Most of the commissioner's funds have come from outside Hall County
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Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell is already racking up a sizable war chest for his re-election bid this year, without even having a challenger.

In his campaign contribution disclosure report released to the state Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, Bell signaled he'd raised nearly $40,000 in the last six months of 2011 for his re-election bid to the Hall County Board of Commissioners Post 4.

Nearly all of Bell's contributions are coming from outside of Hall County.

Hall Commissioner Billy Powell and Chairman Tom Oliver, whose seats are also up for election, reported they did not raise any money during that time.

Then again, neither have announced re-election plans.

The only contribution to Bell that actually lists a Hall County address is from the commissioner himself, who provided an in-kind contribution of $195 in November.

Much of Bell's financial support has come from businesses and attorneys based in Atlanta and other parts of the state.

Bell has also received checks from the Black Republican political action committee, based in South Carolina, and the Freedom Defense Fund, a Washington-based conservative PAC.

Those outside contributions could raise eyebrows.

While there has been speculation Bell could seek higher office, the commissioner maintains he's only running for his district seat.

The outside money, he explained, comes from "a lot of interest" in his political future.

Bell credits much of that interest with his switch from Democrat to Republican in late 2010.

Some now see the young Bell, who was elected as the youngest Hall County commissioner in 2008 at 27, as a rising Republican star. Bell has been asked to speak at state and national Republican groups.

When the 9th District U.S. congressional seat opened up, some wooed Bell to run.

Instead, Bell tried to shoot down rumors he'd run by disclosing that he has donated to the campaigns of both state Rep. Doug Collins and Martha Zoller, Republicans who are running against each other for the open congressional seat.

Despite contributions from state and national figures, Bell said he is running again for the Hall County Board of Commissioners and nothing else.

"When there's a national PAC that's wants to write me a check to run, I'll accept it," Bell said. "But I tell them I'm running for county commission."

Such an organization may see the contribution as "an investment" into his political future, said Bell — who spoke to The Times on Monday after arriving in Myrtle Beach for the South Carolina Republican presidential primary debate.

Even if Bell was interested in running for another political position in 2012, he still couldn't use the money he raised as a down payment on that campaign. According to Georgia law regarding campaign finance, an office seeker cannot raise money under the premises of seeking one position, then use that money to fund running for another.

Still, the commissioner has not ruled out running for higher office in the future - just not 2012.

"Being a county commissioner is a great start to any political career," Bell said.

While the money Bell has raised is a head-start compared to other campaigns, it could be only a fraction of what it could cost to run a campaign.

Chairman Tom Oliver estimated he raised roughly $150,000 for his 2008 campaign.

However, Oliver said when he ran for office, he only raised money locally.

"I don't think I had a cent coming from out of Hall County," Oliver said.

Powell, however, said Bell seems to have a good strategy.

"In this electronic age it takes a lot of money to run an effective campaign," Powell said. "(Bell) is just getting his name out there."

Meanwhile, Oliver and Powell have not announced their intentions for re-election in 2012 for their respective seats. So neither raised a dime for campaigns.

Oliver, who did not send his Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report to the Georgia Ethics Commission, said when he does send it in it will read "zero-zero-zero."

"Haven't received any, given any or taken any funds," he said.

Currently, at least two others have announced their interest in seeking Oliver's seat as county chairman.

Dick Mecum, former U.S. marshal and Hall County sheriff, and Steve Gailey, former Hall County commissioner, have announced their run for the chairmanship, but neither has reported contributions for the race.

Powell said he doesn't have a plan for when he will announce his decision.

However, he did admit he kept all of his campaign signs from his last election.

"They are recyclable," he said.

So at least that's one expense Powell won't have to worry about should he decide to run.