A long, winding tale of Democratic money in Tuesday’s Georgia primaries

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur. Kent D. Johnson, kdjohnson@ajc.com

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur. Kent D. Johnson, kdjohnson@ajc.com

Significant last-minute money is flowing into Tuesday’s primaries, which is unusual enough. But even more unusual are the targets.

Earlier this year, Cobb County Superior Court Judge Reuben Green got into something of a dust-up when a courtroom security camera caught him sharing friendly ideas with local prosecutors.  As a result, Nathan Wade, a local attorney who had considered running for an open seat on Cobb’s judicial bench, dropped down to challenge Green’s bid for a second full term. (Green was appointed to the bench in 2010 by Gov. Sonny Perdue.)Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blog

Last week, a super PAC calling itself Citizens for Safe Communities, with a Chattanooga, Tenn., address, dropped a reported $80,000 in TV ads in the Cobb area – all aimed at Judge Green. Notice that the ad below doesn’t mention Green’s opponent but asks viewers to demand the judge’s resignation – which allows the TV spot to allow the label of a campaign expenditure:

Here’s a rebuttal that Green posted on his Facebook page as the weekend began:

The fracas could make this race an interesting test of Democratic strength in Cobb County. Who’s picking up the tab for the attacks? We don’t know, and God bless Citizens United for that. But we do know two things: The committee was created on May 13, according to those docs filed with the Federal Election Commission. And the single name associated with the group belongs to Lora Haggard, a Ringgold, Ga., attorney. Remember those two facts.

Now let’s move to Decatur, where longtime state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver faces challenger Brian Westlake in the Democratic primary. (Westlake made an unsuccessful bid for state school superintendent in 2010.) A group calling itself the Coalition for Progressive Leadership, based in Washington, D.C., has put up an online video condemning Oliver for voting for House Bill 757, which ultimately became the “religious liberty” bill that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed:

Here’s the problem with that charge. The Feb. 11 vote the group cites was on the original version of HB 757, the so-called Pastor Protection Act, which simply said that members of the clergy don’t have to perform any wedding ceremonies they don’t want to. It was an effort to defuse religious conservative reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, backed by House Speaker David Ralston, and it didn’t work.

But Oliver wasn’t the only Democrat who voted for it. The measure passed the House unanimously. When it came back to the House with Senate additions that drastically changed its tone, Oliver and 65 other House members – virtually all Democrats and some Republicans – voted against it.

So Oliver’s vote on the “religious liberty” bill is very much a red herring. The same group has sent fliers into House District 82, damning Oliver – the senior Democratic voice on the House Judiciary Committee – for accepting a $1,000 campaign contribution from committee Chairman Wendell Willard, a Republican from Sandy Springs:

MMO2

Another flier condemns Oliver for a) participating in a compromise with Deal on the HOPE scholarship (led by House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams) and b) supporting another Deal measure setting up a constitutional referendum to give the governor the power to take over failing schools:

MMO1

Westlake, Oliver’s Democratic opponent, is mentioned in none of this literature but has criticized Oliver in particular for the failing schools referendum. So in addition to targeting Oliver, the group’s effort could also be a test of voter reaction to the Opportunity School District vote in November.

Again, we know not where the money comes from, and an email to the group went unanswered. But we do know a few things about the Coalition for Progressive Leadership. It was formed on May 13, its address is in Washington and the single person associated with it is Lora Haggard. (See Green, Reuben.)

Haggard was chief financial officer for John Edwards’ 2008 Democratic presidential bid. This is from the bio she posted on Blue Wave Political Partners:

Lora Haggard has 18 years of political experience in election reporting and compliance along with 22 years of accounting experience, both nonprofit and corporate. Lora currently serves as Treasurer for several non-profit organizations including Citizens For Strength and Security, Better Energy Solutions for Tomorrow, Committee for Justice & Fairness PAC, and Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy. She has also worked for several candidate committees including Michelle Nunn for U.S. Senate, Citizens for Brian Frosh, Edwards for President 2004 and John Edwards for President 2008.

If you made it this far on this post, we now have your reward. If you check the FEC campaign filing for Jim Barksdale, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, you will find the name of Lora Haggard listed as treasurer.

A campaign source tells us that Haggard does contribution compliance work for the Barksdale campaign and nothing more. Still, according to FEC records, one of the more important names behind Barksdale, the Democratic pick to avoid an embarrassing nobody at the top of their party’s 2016 ticket, is also a participant in an effort to take down one of the most senior Democrats in the Legislature. Never mind that Cobb County judge.

And that’s what the Democratic world in Georgia will be talking about this morning.

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Sad news that you might have missed over the weekend: A Georgia trade mission to South Korea was cut short when the leader of Georgia’s Kia plant died suddenly in Seattle while boarding a plane. Chris Carr, the head of Georgia’s Economic Development Department, and Chris Riley, Gov. Deal’s top aide, were among the state officials with him when he collapsed.

Our AJC colleague Johnny Edwards has more:

For nearly a decade, J. Randy Jackson has been the public face of Kia Motors in Georgia, a $1 billion auto plant that created thousands of jobs and saved a working-class border community from economic ruin.

On Saturday, west Georgia was reeling from Jackson’s abrupt death on an airliner bound for South Korea, where Kia is headquartered. The auto plant’s chief administrator died doing what he’s best known for — advocating for Georgians’ jobs.

“This is obviously a tough time for us all,” former West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson said. “We’re going to have to pull together to get through this transition.”

Among Jackson’s biggest admirers was former Gov. Sonny Perdue. Landing Kia was one of the bright spots of Perdue’s tenure.

“We will miss him,” the ex-governor said of Jackson in a written statement, “but his legacy will continue to live on as long as Kia is building cars and employing Georgians.

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Willie Nelson had a big-time backup singer at his Chastain Park performance over the weekend. Former President Jimmy Carter joined the 83-year-old musician on stage to sing “Amazing Grace.”

Take a gander here.

 


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