On the campaign trail: Some strange twists in the A-G’s race

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There hasn’t been much media focus on the race for attorney general, but that down-ballot campaign has taken some interesting twists and turns this week.

In the few polls that have been released on this race, Republican incumbent Sam Olens has held a consistent if not overwhelming lead over his Democratic challenger, former legislator Greg Hecht.

A poll by SurveyUSA for WXIA-TV last week showed Olens leading Hecht by just 46-43 percent with 11 percent undecided, which was within the poll’s margin of error. That was a surprisingly tight lead for a well-funded incumbent in a race that relatively few voters have been paying attention to.

Earlier this week, SurveyUSA’s poll indicated Olens had built that lead back to 47-40 percent over Hecht, with a somewhat sizeable chunk of 13 percent of the voters undecided.

It was also this week that WSB-TV investigative reporter Richard Belcher aired a report about Olens that must have caused some heartburn among the attorney general’s campaign staff.

Belcher’s story quotes state Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) accusing Olens of trying to solicit a large contribution from Balfour’s corporate employer, Waffle House, at a time when Olens’ office was pursuing criminal charges against Balfour.

First, a little back story: Balfour agreed to pay a $5,000 fine in 2012 after the Senate Ethics Committee looked into allegations that he had filed for state expense reimbursement for trips that lobbyists had paid for.

Olens’ office followed up on those allegations and in September 2013, Balfour was indicted by a Fulton County grand jury on 16 counts of making a false certificate, one count of theft by taking and one count of false statement and writing.

Balfour was subsequently acquitted after a December 2013 trial, was reinstated to the Senate, and served out this year’s legislative session. He lost his seat in the Republican primary election.

From the Belcher report:

In the summer of 2012, Balfour was already the subject of a Senate ethics investigation. He said that’s when Olens called Balfour’s boss, Waffle House CEO Joe Rogers, to ask for $40 – $50,000 for a national prosecutors’ conference.

Rogers confirmed the call and said he told Olens to call Balfour.

Balfour said this is what the attorney general said when Balfour turned him down.

“You ought to reconsider that. You never know when you may need an attorney general,” Balfour told Belcher.

“Did you think he was threatening you?” Belcher asked.

“He was obviously putting pressure on me. There was no doubt about it,” Balfour said.

“That was not the motivation for this office engaging in an investigation and prosecution,” said Senior Assistant Attorney General David McLaughlin, who prosecuted the Balfour case.

He said he started investigating after findings by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“My lawyers and I, we looked at the evidence. We made a recommendation to the front office that we should indict this case. And I stand by that decision,” McLaughlin said.

Olens released this statement in reaction to Balfour’s charge:

“I am outraged by Senator Balfour’s patently false allegation. If Mr. Balfour genuinely believed that that a fundraising call affected his prosecution, he would not have waited until two weeks before my election to say so — it would have been the centerpiece of his defense during the GBI investigation, during pre-trial discussions with state prosecutors, and during his jury trial. He didn’t make those claims because he knows they are not true. And it is the lowest kind of politics to suggest that they are.”

Meanwhile, Olens’ Democratic opponent issued a press statement last week claiming that more than 30 sheriffs had switched their endorsements from Olens to Hecht in the current race for attorney general.

Olens’ campaign said that some of those sheriffs are denying they switched their endorsements, and the state Republican Party has jumped on the issue as well.

“Greg Hecht should be ashamed of himself,” state GOP Chairman John Padgett said. “Instead of working hard to earn the support of elected officials and voters throughout Georgia, he’s decided to intentionally lie to the very people he wants to represent.”

Hecht’s campaign spokesman, Joe Cullar, said that wasn’t so: “These sheriffs told Greg they support him, and we took them at their word. A clerical mistake was made with respect to Sheriff [Nick] Norton, and that has since been corrected.”

Hecht has raised more money than any Democrat other than Jason Carter who’s running for a statewide constitutional office. The last disclosure report for the period ending Sept. 30 showed Hecht had raised $534,100 and still had $296,638 cash on hand.

Olens has been an even more prolific fundraiser: $3.48 million as of Sept. 30 with $1.11 million cash on hand for the campaign’s final weeks.

Our richest congressmen

Sen. Johnny Iskason, whose business career was in real estate, and Rep. Tom Price, originally trained as an orthopedic surgeon, are the wealthiest members of Georgia’s congressional delegation, according to the latest yearly ranking by Roll Call.

Isakson was ranked as the 43rd wealthiest of the 541 members and delegates of the House and Senate with a net worth of $8.93 million for calendar year 2013. Price was in 44th place with a net worth of $8.87 million.

The data is culled from the financial disclosures filed by the members of Congress.

Isakson is not running this year and Price has only token opposition in the general election, so neither of them is having to use their personal fortune to self-finance a campaign, as David Perdue is doing in the Senate race.

Other Georgia congressmen with a net worth of at least $1 million: Phil Gingrey, Austin Scott, and Jack Kingston.

At the bottom of Georgia’s list: David Scott, Doug Collins, Saxby Chambliss, John Lewis, Rob Woodall, Lynn Westmoreland, Paul Broun, Sanford Bishop and Hank Johnson, who all claim a net worth of $150,000 or less.

Jimmy again speaking for Jason

Former president Jimmy Carter was scheduled to make another appearance on behalf of his grandson Jason on Thursday, making a speech to the Georgia Ministers Alliance forum on St. Simons Island.

The elder Carter’s earlier campaign pitch for Jason Carter was also made in a religious context, when Jimmy spoke at a church service at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Albany

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: attorney general's race , Don Balfour , Greg Hecht , Jimmy Carter , Johnny Isakson , Sam Olens , Tom Price , wealthy congressmen