In his first three months in the race to be the next sheriff of Hall County, Gerald Couch garnered more financial support than any of his six opponents.
Couch, who kicked off his campaign in late January, raised more than $13,700 by the state deadline to report contributions, March 31.
The jump-start, including a loan to the campaign of $20,000, puts his campaign within financial reach of Col. Jeff Strickland in the contest to succeed Sheriff Steve Cronic.
Cronic is stepping away from the office at the end of the year after three consecutive terms leading the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
The contest to succeed him has drawn a number of Sheriff’s Office veterans as well as veterans from the Gainesville Police Department and the Georgia State Patrol.
The race has also grabbed the attention of campaign donors, who have already shelled out nearly $96,000.
Where they have directed their money is an early indicator of the candidates’ support.
Strickland is the recipient of more than half those contributions.
Strickland, the former chief deputy of the Hall Sheriff’s Office, has been campaigning since April 2011, and retired in October to focus fully on his campaign.
In that time, Strickland has raised $55,725. With the help of a loan, Strickland’s campaign funding has, at one point, exceeded $70,100.
Strickland said fundraising was a focus for him in 2011.
“That’s mainly what I did in 2011 to prepare for the election,” Strickland said of his fundraising efforts.
And though Strickland still has some $31,000 left to spend, his contributions in the first three months of the year fell about $5,000 short of those Couch collected.
Couch, also a Hall Sheriff’s Office veteran, retired from the Gainesville Police Department in late January and immediately joined the pool of sheriff’s candidates.
By March 31, he had raised $13,419. In that same time period, Strickland collected some $8,000, according to a report he filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
Strickland said he will continue to seek donations to pad his campaign coffers, noting the expense of advertising and campaign signs and the number of competitors in this year’s race.
“It’s very expensive to run a countywide race ...” he said. “The number of candidates makes fundraising more important, because you really do have to get your message out. The other candidates started very early with signs, so we’ve had to do a lot with signs as well.”
Couch said he’d set a goal for the campaign to gain as much financial ground as he could before he had to file his first disclosure.
“I’ve been well received by the public and supporters and people wanting to contribute,” said Couch.
Couch provided a copy of his campaign disclosure report to The Times on Monday. It was not available on the state campaign finance commission’s website and may not surface there for two weeks, because he filed the report by mail.
Most candidates for local offices are exempt from state requirements to file contributions electronically.
But according to the commission’s executive secretary, Holly LaBerge, those, like Couch, who raise or spend more than $5,000 on their campaigns must file their quarterly contribution reports via the Internet.
Couch said he consulted with attorneys, all who told him it was OK to file by mail, before filing his disclosure last week.
The money he and Strickland have for their campaigns far outpaces others in the race, though at least one of them wasn’t far behind in contributions last quarter.
Chuck Hewett, the former chief of security at the Hall jail, raised $6,820 in the first quarter, and has nearly $3,600 to carry his campaign through the next quarter.
Hewett could not be reached for comment on the race Monday.
The newest contender, John Sisk, reported a more than $6,600 loan to get his campaign off the ground, spending all but about $130 by March 31 on campaign office rent, office supplies and advertising.
Sisk was the eighth man to announce his candidacy for sheriff in early March. Other than the loan, Sisk’s only reported contribution of $125 came in February.
He wasn’t disheartened by the financial gap between him and other candidates. While Sisk said money was important, he said it wasn’t everything.
Sisk has worked for both the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and the Gainesville Police Department, and retired from the latter at the end of February.
“It’s disappointing that I don’t have as much money (as Strickland), but I still expect to beat him,” Sisk said.
Jon P. Strickland reported $2,350 in first-quarter contributions and has spent less than half of it. Strickland is a veteran of both the Gainesville Police Department and the Georgia State Patrol. He did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Another candidate in the race, Chad Cobb, who announced his intention to run in July 2011, dropped out several days after Sisk announced his candidacy. Cobb endorsed Couch on his way out.
Rickey E. Tumlin, who also announced his candidacy in July 2011, said health issues have kept him from actively campaigning.
Tumlin’s report, filed by mail, was not available on the campaign finance commission’s website Monday, but Tumlin said he’d raised less than $1,000 since he entered the race, noting that both he and his wife had suffered health setbacks since he joined the race.
Tumlin spent 32 years with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, and said he’s still evaluating whether to continue with his bid to lead the department.