The three candidates for the available Superior Court judgeship in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit had amassed, and partly spent, almost $85,000 for their campaigns as of March 31. And comments from candidates and reports of more recent major contributions indicate that the cash committed to race has now surpassed $100,000.
Former assistant district attorney and municipal judge Martha C. Hall, former chief assistant district attorney and contracted public defender Claude M. “Mickey” Kicklighter, and current assistant district attorney Michael T. Muldrew are vying for the spot on the Superior Court bench that Judge John R. “Robbie” Turner will vacate when he retires in December.
Hall appears to be waging a mostly self-funded campaign so far. The other two candidates have more donors, but less money committed to the race. 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.
Kicklighter, who now has a private law practice in Springfield, had acquired the least campaign cash as of the March 31 full disclosure. That report, plus three subsequent reports of relatively large donations, showed him approaching the $20,000 mark. Phoned Friday, he said his campaign had received about $22,000 so far and spent all but about $400 of it.
“I don’t think we’re done yet,” Kicklighter said. “I mean, we’ve got another month to go into the campaign, so I suspect it’s going to take a bit more.”
As of March 31, his campaign fund had received $14,238.44, not including any loans, but including $1,787.95 Kicklighter contributed himself. He reported $11,228.26 in spending, and so ended March with $3,010.18 campaign cash on hand.
Another complete disclosure report is not required until June 30, five weeks after the May 24 nonpartisan general election, which coincides with the party primaries. But when candidates receive a single contribution of $1,000 or more between a complete disclosure and an election, they are required to file a special report of the contribution within two business days.
Kicklighter’s campaign has filed three such reports. He received a $1,000 donation April 8 from a retiree in Springfield, then a $2,600 donation, the maximum, April 15 from an advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in New York, and $2,100 Friday from a relative in McLean, Va.
A first-time candidate, Kicklighter described fundraising for a judge’s position as awkward.
“For me, I think it’s very awkward to ask people to give you money so that you can get a job that you want,” he said. “I understand the process, I understand that they’re obviously investing in somebody that they think will do, hopefully, a good job, but the whole process is just awkward. I don’t know how else to describe it.”
He indicated that his campaign is raising money as needed and not amassing cash.
As of March 31, most of Kicklighter’s contributions had been in amounts of $500 and up. The largest were $2,600 from a Port Wentworth insulation company; $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000 from three Statesboro law firms; and $1,000 from a Springfield retiree.
In addition to a maximum of $2,600 before the first election, a donor can give a candidate up to $1,400 for a runoff. These are Georgia’s limits for local elections and offices representing multi-county districts, and can also be found on the Campaign Finance Commission website. The limits for statewide elections are different.
With three candidates, the nonpartisan judge race could go to a July 26 runoff but will not continue to the November election.
The $2,600 primary or general election cap and $1,400 runoff cap do not apply to money candidates give or lend to their own campaigns.
As of the March 31 required report of all campaign funds, Hall had made loans to her campaign totaling $37,355.75, providing most of the campaign’s $38,475.75 in cash to that date. Besides $1,120 in cash donations, her campaign had received one in-kind donation worth $800, billboard space provided by an accountant, by that date.
Hall wasn’t reached for an interview Friday. A call to her Springfield law office that morning resulted in leaving a voice mail message. On calling back in the afternoon, the reporter discovered that the office closes early on Fridays.
After spending $34,885.80 on things such as newspaper, billboard and social media advertising, campaign signs, her qualifying fee, rental of a helium tank for balloons and rent for a Statesboro campaign office, Hall’s campaign had ended March with a $3,589.95 cash balance.
Then Hall filed a two-business-day report of major contributions April 7. It shows she received a $1,000 April 5 donation from a Statesboro resident in the car care business, and also that Hall made an additional $10,000 loan to her campaign that day.
So the reported amounts add up to $50,275 cash and in-kind resources to her campaign, but wouldn’t include contributions smaller than $1,000 each received since March 31.
Muldrew’s campaign reported receiving $32,162.95 in monetary contributions and in-kind contributions worth $550 by March 31. His campaign had spent $15,871.48 and so reported a $16,291.47 cash balance. He has filed no two-business-day reports of additional contributions of $1,000 or larger.
But Muldrew estimated Friday that his campaign has received $8,000 or $9,000 more in smaller contributions since the March 31 report, and so has received about $40,000 so far.
More than half of the donations, he said, have been from people who offered to contribute without his campaign asking directly.
“Most people have approached me,” Muldrew said. “We did send out a mailer and invitations to join in supporting me for the race, and it’s been really humbling all the contributions and all the encouragement people have given me.”
He said he is prepared to put in some of his own money but that because supporters have been generous, he hasn’t gotten to that stage yet. He previously contributed $3,787.95 to cover the qualifying fee.
Most itemized contributions received by Muldrew’s campaign were in the $200 to $500 range. Larger donors include a Sylvania cattleman, a Statesboro estate, and a Millen store owner, each giving $1,000; a Statesboro man in the furniture business, who gave $2,000; a Statesboro-based investments company, also with $2,000; and Statesboro woman listed as a real estate investor, who gave $2,200.
Muldrew said he has not solicited any donations from attorneys.
“The attorneys that have given to me have come on their own to give to me, and the people that are giving to me recognize my character and integrity, and I know that they’re not giving to me to try to sway my judgment or compromise my integrity,” he said.
His March 31 report showed seven donations from other attorneys, most giving $250 or $300 each. Four of them were fellow prosecutors in the district attorney’s office. One private attorney gave $500.
On the disclosure reports, any donations smaller than $100 are not listed separately, but are shown as a lump sum. As of March 31, Muldrew’s campaign reported $3,175 in these donations. Hall’s report showed $50 on this line, and Kicklighter’s showed 49 cents.
Although reports for the multi-county Superior Court judgeship are filed online, those for in-county offices are not. Disclosure reports for races such as those for sheriff and probate judge in Bulloch County are kept at the county elections office as public records.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.