As of March 31, the three candidates in the race for Bulloch County sheriff had received a total of $111,419 in cash and in-kind contributions for their campaigns, according to their required reports. That was before April, with its candidate forums and other activity.
The bulk of the donations and spending is in the Republican primary race between Sgt. Noel Brown and Chief Deputy Jared Akins, both Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office employees. It will be decided May 24, and the winner will face Democratic Party candidate Keith Lamar Howard in the Nov. 8 general election.
Akins had collected more than $65,000 in contributions by March 31, and said donations have continued to come in. Brown had received more than $39,000 through March, and his campaign treasurer said almost $20,000 more has arrived in April. In separate interviews, both of these candidates said this amount of money is necessary to wage a sheriff’s race like this year’s in Bulloch County.
“It is, and we’ve been blessed to have enough donors to allow us to get our message out and hopefully to connect with a lot of the voters,” Akins said. “But there are many different ways, many different forms of media that you really have to reach out to people through, and it does take that.”
Brown suggested that the nature of the 2016 race, with no incumbent running, adds to the scale of the campaigns and the expense. Sheriff Lynn Anderson will retire at the end of the year after not seeking re-election.
“Our incumbent is retiring, you’ve got two deputies inside of an office running for sheriff, and some may know your name, some may not know your name,” Brown said. “The people that are behind you and have confidence in you want to get your name out there, and that’s what you hear from a lot of them when they give the resources or monetary donations, that they want you to get your name out there.”
Why March 31?
March 31 was the closing date for the latest campaign disclosure reports, which candidates for in-county offices had to file with the Bulloch County Board of Elections office. The sheriff candidates all filed by April 7, the deadline to avoid a late fee.
The next required reporting period closes June 30, more than a month after the primary.
This year, by March 31, Akins’ campaign had received $63,687 in cash contributions and spent $25,906.64. He had also accepted $1,898 in in-kind contributions. These include spending that others do or promise to do on behalf of a candidate, such as donating materials for signs or food for a campaign rally.
Brown’s campaign had raised $32,133 in monetary contributions, through March, and had spent $30,479.08, leaving just $1,652.92 at that point. He also reported $7,047.87 of in-kind contributions, and so his campaign had cost about $37,500 at that point.
Saying that a key to his approach as sheriff would be to surround himself with good people, Brown brought his campaign manager, De Strickland, and treasurer, Julie Barnes, with him for an interview on the subject. Strickland is a Bulloch County resident who twice ran as a Republican candidate for state agriculture commissioner. Barnes is a certified public accountant.
“We have continued to collect funds, and our account has continued to grow since the last reporting,” said Barnes, who filed the March 31 report on Brown’s behalf.
Since that time, Barnes said, “just under $20,000 gross” has come in.
Meanwhile, Akins’ spending had left him with a $37,780.36 balance as of March 31.
“We’ve received a significant number of contributions since then, and that basically keeps you running the day-to-day things that you need to add, signs and shirts and different things like that,” Akins said.
Donors who give $100 or less are not identified in the reports. These donations are reported as a single lump sum. Akins reported receiving $9,337 in these small cash donations in February and March. Meanwhile, Brown reported receiving $6,003.36 in small cash and in-kind contributions.
Amounts larger than $100 are reported separately and donors identified. Georgia’s current limit on an individual contribution to a local candidate’s campaign before a primary is $2,600.
Most of Brown’s and Akins’ separately reported contributors gave $200 to $500. The largest contributions reported were at the old limit of $2,500.
Akins’ largest contributions included $2,500 from a convenience store owner and $2,500 each from two other persons, listed as working in retail, with the same last name as the store owner. Another convenience store owner and another person in retail with different last names also gave $2,500. A rental property company and a roofing company each gave $2,000. Insurance companies and people in real estate are among Akins’ $1,000 contributors.
Brown’s only $2,500 donor in the last two months was a retiree who gave the same amount to Akins. One woman whose occupation was listed as “owner” gave $1,500. Brown’s $1,000 contributors include a tire service company, a car care business, a wrecker service and a construction contractor. His campaign reported a $2,370 in-kind contribution from a printing company, not affiliated with the Statesboro Herald, and a $1,553.37 in-kind from a janitorial company.
The candidates were asked whether they were comfortable with the sources of their contributions and whether large or small donors are preferred.
“I am comfortable with them,” Brown said.
“When you have someone contribute in any amount or any way, then they have invested in your campaign, and that’s another voter and that is just a wonderful aspect of this,” said Strickland, Brown’s campaign manager. “Of course, we certainly appreciate the large contributions, but the small ones are important too.”
Similarly, Akins said, “We appreciate all of the donors, and the person that gives $50, he may have less money to give than somebody that gives you the maximum contribution. So, we’re appreciative of all of them. We recognize how much of a sacrifice it is, no matter who you are.”
“No, absolutely not,” Akins said to whether he would let donations influence how he does the job. “The sheriff has to enforce the law regardless of who donated to his campaign or who voted for him or who voted against him. …”
“We certainly don’t turn down donations from anybody, but it’s certainly not a conflict on my part and certainly won’t be if I’m elected sheriff,” he added.
“One hundred and one percent,” Brown said when asked if he is confident that he will not let contributions influence him.
Howard eyes November
Howard, a former Georgia State Patrol trooper and Jenkins County deputy, will appear unopposed on the May 24 Democratic ballot. He had received in-kind donations valued at $3,000 and $3,654.26 in monetary donations by March 31. He reported spending $2,805.25 cash and $2,805.05 in-kind and having $849.01 cash and $194 in-kind value left.
Of course, Howard is directing most of his effort to the race that will occur after May 24. Meanwhile, he implied that the other two candidates are spending too much.
“If you’re going to run a campaign on that much money for sheriff, that ain’t really setting a good example of how you’re going to do a budget,” Howard said. “I wouldn’t dare ask people for that much money.”
He expects his campaign to cost about $10,000 or $12,000, he said, roughly what he spent in 2012, when Howard was one of two Republican challengers to Anderson. But Howard added that he has the advantage of using leftover campaign signs.
“One thing you’ve got to look at when you go out asking for money is, are they going to expect something, and human nature is, yeah, if they get a speeding ticket they’re going to come to the sheriff, if they get a juror notice they’re going to come to the sheriff,” Howard said. “So you’ve got to be careful about taking money on a local level like that.”
As of March 31, the money in the sheriff’s race far surpassed that in the second-best funded local race. The five candidates for probate judge, together, reported contributions totaling $36,829.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.