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Fundraising almost even for 2 House candidates
9th District hopefuls Collins, Zoller report nearly $60K for end of 2011
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Financial support for two of the candidates jockeying for Georgia's newest congressional seat nearly leveled out toward the end of last year.

But nobody's willing to call it a tie.

In the final quarter of 2011, Martha Zoller, a Gainesville-based radio host, raised slightly more than state Rep. Doug Collins, reporting a take of nearly $59,550 to the Federal Elections Commission this week.

For the same period, Collins reported $57,499 in contributions and a personal loan of $15,000 to his campaign.

The two Republicans and Jackson County Commission Chairman Hunter Bicknell are seeking to represent Northeast Georgia's newly drawn 9th District in the U.S. House. The GOP primary is scheduled for July 31.

Zoller's campaign said the report is a sign she is gaining on Collins.

"The report reveals what we've been seeing on the ground," said Zoller's campaign manager, Ryan Mahoney. "Martha has the momentum going into the spring, and Doug's campaign is barely treading water at this point."

Collins still has the most money on hand to get him through the next few months of the race. The reports show Collins had some $114,268 by the end of the year to Zoller's $19,368.

That's the number Collins' campaign manager, Chip Lake, said he's focusing on.

"We feel like we're in a strong financial position," Lake said. "We feel pretty good about it."

Georgia's growing population recorded in the 2010 census earned it a 14th congressional district.

That district has been carved out of all or parts of 20 counties in Northeast Georgia.

Collins and Zoller, both from the district's population center of Hall County, announced their intentions to seek the new seat in September.

By the end of their first month on the campaign trail, Collins had raised more than $112,000 and Zoller had about $27,000.

Following Zoller and Collins into the race was Bicknell, who showed some $13,359 in contributions by the end of 2011.

Bicknell entered the race in early November. Because of his late entry, he did not focus on fundraising.

"We didn't go into a fundraising battle going into the holidays," said Mark Pettitt, Bicknell's campaign manager.

Instead, Pettitt said Bicknell's campaign has been focused on introducing him to the rest of district.

Now that voters know the candidate, Pettitt said they are beginning to support him financially.

"The money will start coming in," Pettitt said. "In fact, it already is."

Zoller's report with the FEC shows she returned two $500 donations from the leaders of an organization of gay conservatives, GoProud.

Her campaign manager said the donations from GoProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia and the chairman of the organization's board of directors Chris Barron were returned after they became the center of controversy.

The two reportedly "outed" an aide to former Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry on Twitter after Perry released an ad criticizing the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law.

LaSalvia reportedly used a homophobic slur in a Twitter rant on the subject.

A call to GoProud was not returned Wednesday.

Zoller has known the two men for "years," through her radio show, and refunded their money to show the men she disapproved of their actions, Mahoney said.

Campaign staff each say their candidates oppose gay marriage and civil unions and support the federal Defense of Marriage Act and a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"As a Christian, Martha loves and respects people of other faiths, lifestyles and backgrounds," Mahoney said in an email. " However, on issues of public policy, Martha is a rock solid conservative who is pro-family and pro-traditional marriage."

Collins, too, refunded a number of his contributions. Two $500 contributions from Woody's Pharmacy in Dahlonega and a $1,000 contribution from the Gainesville-based Carter Firm were returned.

Collins' report also shows a refund of a $250 contribution from the Warren Featherbone Co.

Lake said the refunds were not based on a clash over candidate values. A representative from Woody’s Pharmacy said the money from his business was returned for technical reasons. Kevin Woody said he made a personal contribution, but federal campaign finance law kept the money from coming from a corporate check.