Campaign spending in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Superior Court judge race topped $220,000 by June 30, including the dollars spent by Martha Hall and Michael Muldrew, who are contenders in the July 26 runoff, as well as by a third candidate left behind in May.
With contributions and self-financing totaling $231,180 by the reporting date, this is the most richly funded “local” election this season, but the circuit encompasses four counties. Other races still in play are confined to Bulloch County. Primary season spending in the sheriff’s race exceeded $142,000.The race for Bulloch County Probate Court judge, with originally five candidates and now down to two in the runoff, accounted for $57,574 in spending through June 30.
Hall, a former Ogeechee Circuit assistant district attorney who is now in private practice in the Hall Law Group, has spent the most of any candidate in the circuit this season. Her campaign’s $140,346 in finances through June 30 included $10,830 of cash donations and $2,660 of in-kind donations, but $126,856 in loans she made to her campaign.
This largely self-funded approach is important to her, Hall said in an interview.
“I haven’t actively solicited contributions because I think it’s important that I do exactly what I have been doing in terms of funding the campaign, because it is a judicial position, and impartiality certainly is a relevant component when seeking this position,” Hall said.
Unless offset by money from other donors, those loans will become cash donations she made to her own campaign. There are no legal restrictions on how much of their own money candidates can spend in an effort to get themselves elected.
Any other individual donor can give a candidate up to $2,600 for an initial election, and up to $1,400 for its runoff, under Georgia’s limits for local elections and offices representing multi-county districts.
Another way of stating Hall’s preference for self-funding, she said, is that it leaves her beholden to no one.
“So if I can – and I hate to use a cliché, but – put my money where my mouth is, just to say I’m willing to invest this because it is that important to me, then I won’t be necessarily beholding to anyone, contributors, et cetera, because I think people can get the wrong idea about that,” Hall said.
She also largely self-funded her 2012 campaign for district attorney.
‘Not for sale’
Muldrew, currently chief assistant district attorney in the Ogeechee Circuit, acknowledged he has been outspent by more than 2-to-1. His campaign spending through June 30 totaled $55,218, leaving him with $2,405 cash on hand. Hall had spent $133,102 and had a $4,583 balance.
Called this week, Muldrew put a different interpretation on Hall’s extensive self-funding.
“You know, the Superior Court exists for the people it serves, and the judgeship should not be for sale to the highest bidder,” Muldrew said. “It should only be held by a person who has good character and integrity and somebody who has shown good judgment in both their personal and professional life.”
His campaign reported accumulating $57,623 of cash contributions and $797 of in-kind donations through June 30. But this includes $12,959 in loans he made to his campaign. As of the previous requiring reporting date, March 31, Muldrew had not made any self-loans, but in April he said he would begin putting in some of his own money.
This week, he said he may put in a bit more of his own money, depending on the amount of contributions that come in. Both candidates say the spending they are doing is necessary to get their message out with advertising and campaign activities.
“But we have a budget that we created early on, and we’re sticking to that budget and our game plan on how to get our word out, and it’s been very effective,” Muldrew said. “We had the most votes, and we look forward to getting the most votes the next time too.”
Contributions Muldrew received between March 31 and June 30 included a total of $5,376 from donors giving $100 or less, which do not have to be reported separately. So this indicates there were at least 54 of these. He itemized 22 contributions ranging from $101 to $1,400.
The $1,400 was from a Statesboro law firm. Two individual private attorneys gave $1,000 and $250. An oil company owner and woman with occupation listed as “unemployed” each gave $500. Among other individual contributors were a doctor, a farmer, and district attorneys’ office lawyers in the Ogeechee Circuit and another circuit.
In April, Muldrew said he and his campaign volunteers were not directly soliciting contributions, other than by sending out a mailer and invitations to join in supporting him. He said that continues to be his approach.
In the earlier reporting period, which ended March 31, Hall had five itemized contributions of more than $100, while Muldrew listed 67. But since then the number of contributions Hall has received has increased.
Hall’s contributions during the quarter included $560 from donors giving $100 or less. But she had 28 itemized donations of more than $100 for the period. The largest were $2,500 from a Hall family member with a Sylvania address, $1,000 each a local cattle company and a car care company owner and $750 from a Sylvania law firm. A Rincon lawyer gave $500. A Statesboro lawyer gave $250.
One Statesboro law group made identical $125 contributions to Hall’s and Muldrew’s campaigns.
Early voting is underway in the July 26 runoff in Bulloch, Effingham, Jenkins and Screven counties.
Muldrew led in the May 24 primary with 41 percent of the votes to Hall’s 39 percent. The third-place candidate, Claude M. “Mickey” Kicklighter Jr., garnered 20 percent of the votes.
Kicklighter’s campaign raised $32,413 and spent $31,352, according to his June 30 disclosure.
Campaign disclosure reports on this race are filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission and are available online at http://media.ethics.ga.gov. Under “Quick Searches” choose “Campaign Information” and search by office or name.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.