State Rep. Doug Collins has at least four times as much money to spend on his campaign for Georgia’s new 9th Congressional District seat as his opponents.
His campaign said the money demonstrates his status as the front-runner in the race to be Georgia’s newest congressman. But staff for two candidates who trail him in the money race seem to think their money is cleaner than that collected for the Collins effort.
In the first three months of the year, Collins raised $83,165.34 for his campaign.
As of March 31, Collins had some $142,849.64 left to spend, a sum that includes $15,000 he loaned to the effort last year.
The five candidates seeking to represent the new 20-county district in Northeast Georgia were required under federal elections law to report campaign fundraising and expenditures for the first quarter of the year by midnight Sunday.
Two — Clifton McDuffie and Roger Fitzpatrick — have not yet filed disclosure forms. Neither says he has reached the $5,000 fundraising threshold to meet the quarterly fundraising disclosure requirement.
Another candidate, Martha Zoller, reported raising $72,513.78 last quarter, and she reported having about $34,559 in-hand by the end of last month.
Jackson County Commission Chairman Hunter Bicknell raised about $40,000 in the first three months of the year; he had $19,682.66 to carry his campaign forward at the end of the month.
Bicknell’s campaign manager expressed pride Monday in the fact that Bicknell had not accepted donations from lobbyists, “special interests” or political action committees. Much of Bicknell’s money comes from Jackson, Banks and South Hall counties, which his campaign said was a sign of “strong grassroots momentum” from his home base.
“We’re still running a grassroots campaign focused on people in this district,” said Mark Pettitt, Bicknell’s campaign manager.
Zoller’s campaign received money from at least five political action committees based in Washington D.C., Nevada and Columbus, Ga.
Zoller’s fundraising report also includes support from her friends in the media. Last quarter, she received a $2,000 donation from former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who appeared with her in Gainesville earlier this year. Zoller also received $1,000 from Hollywood writer Allen Covert.
Covert is probably best-known for his work with comedian Adam Sandler; in 2006, Covert starred in the stoner comedy “Grandma’s Boy.”
In the last 10 years at least, Covert has made other contributions to Republican presidential and congressional candidates, and created a line of digital children’s books that are meant to teach patriotism.
Zoller’s campaign manager, Ryan Mahoney, said she met the writer at the Conservative Political Action Conference as he was promoting his book.
Mahoney said Zoller had other contributions that stemmed from the conference, including a $2,000 donation from U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, whom Zoller interviewed at the conference.
In 2010, Mahoney ran Mack’s campaign for congress.
Collins’ campaign said Zoller’s contributions show support from friends who live outside of the district.
Of the money Collins raised last quarter, nearly $36,800 of his itemized contributions came from donors in the new 9th District.
“Martha’s had a lot of endorsements from her friends in the media, but they don’t live in the district,” said Collins spokeswoman Loree Anne Thompson. “This is a campaign for the people of this district.”
But Collins can also attribute his campaign wealth to outside donors.
Along with a $1,000 donation from Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which also donated $1,000 to Zoller, Collins took $1,000 from the giant tobacco firm Altria Group and another $1,000 from the American Society of Anesthesiologists political action committee.
Of Collins’ itemized contributions, about 10 were from former colleagues in the General Assembly.
Zoller’s campaign manager Mahoney said Collins’ report makes it “clear, once again, that he’s the establishment choice.”
“The folks who want him in office are lobbyists and litigators, and they’re going to throw as much money at him as possible to make sure he’s their new congressman from the 9th ...” Mahoney said. “I think it just continues to play into the narrative that he’s the choice of the lawyers and lobbyists and Martha’s the choice of the people.”
But Collins’ campaign said the contributions were a natural result of working in Atlanta for six years.
“Those are his colleagues and people who believe in him and think he’d be a great congressman,” said Thompson. “...It’s no surprise that a couple of colleagues wanted to support him.”