Macon Astroturf

&#8220 Citizens for Responsible Government, in its June 30 disclosure, reported only about $104.00 in the bank. Where did it get the money to run this ad?&#8221

“Astroturf” campaigns are campaigns that are designed to appear grassroots oriented, but are in reality backed by an organized, deceptive campaign. Today’s Macon Telegraph unknowingly inflicted an astroturf campaign on the residents of the 137th House District. Who’s responsible? In a very, very close race for a runoff, the former front runner — City Councilman Stebin Horne.

Horne’s astroturf campaign doesn’t just impact his race, it also impacts the races for Governor, Lt. Gov., Secretary of State, and Ag.

ImageThe picture to the left shows a sticker that appeared on all the issues of the Macon Telegraph today. The sticker says both “Take this with you to the polls!” and “Paid for by Citizens for Responsible Government.” The sticker does not just list support for Horne, but also support for candidates in statewide races.

Citizens for Responsible Government is a legitimate organization. However, if you note the address of the organization, you will notice that it is the very same address as Firehouse Consulting, LLC. Both Firehouse Consulting, LLC and Citizens for Responsible Government are owned by Jim Cox. Jim Cox is also Stebin Horne’s consultant. In fact, Horne has paid Cox approximately $100,000.00 during this election season. Citizens for Responsible Government, in its June 30 disclosure, reported only about $104.00 in the bank. Where did it get the money to run this ad?

O.C.G.A. Section 21-2-415 is directly relevant to this.

The relevant portion of 21-2-415(a) reads:

No person shall distribute, circulate, disseminate, or publish or cause to be distributed, circulated, disseminated, or published any literature in connection with any political campaign for any public office or question unless such literature shall bear the name and address of the person or organization distributing, circulating, disseminating, publishing, or causing the same to be distributed, circulated, disseminated, or published. To be in compliance with this subsection when an organization rather than a natural person commits any of the acts enumerated in this subsection, the names and addresses of at least three of the highest officials thereof shall also appear thereon. No candidate whose campaign is the subject of any campaign literature shall contribute funds to defray the cost or a portion of the cost of the printing, publishing, distribution, circulation, or dissemination of such literature unless the literature clearly states that the cost or a portion thereof has been paid for by the candidate. Campaign literature published and disseminated by the candidate, bearing his or her name and the office for which he or she is a candidate, shall be considered as in compliance with this subsection.

Here’s the problem for the Horne campaign. First, I don’t think a legitimate argument can be made that this was actually a third party advertisement. The paying party had only $104 and some odd cents as of June 30th. Given that the stickers were on not just home delivers, but also runs for newspaper stands, you’re talking about an expenditure over $1000.00. Neither the Committee or Horne’s campaign have either posted a 48 hour report for a contribution to pay for these things.

Second, if we’re talking solely a third party expenditure, 21-2-415 states, “To be in compliance with this subsection when an organization rather than a natural person commits any of the acts enumerated in this subsection, the names and addresses of at least three of the highest officials thereof shall also appear thereon.” That’s not on the ad.

But really, a reasonable person can conclude that Horne’s campaign was behind this. The consultant is an integral part of the campaign. While Cox may very well have spent his own money on this, there should have been an in-kind contribution disclosure made. So far there has not been one. If Horne’s campaign participated in any way with this sticker being printed, 21-2-415 states, “No candidate whose campaign is the subject of any campaign literature shall contribute funds to defray the cost or a portion of the cost of the printing, publishing, distribution, circulation, or dissemination of such literature unless the literature clearly states that the cost or a portion thereof has been paid for by the candidate.” The sticker does not mention that. With the race as tight as it is, this just might get Horne into a runoff. But then he’s left himself wide open to charges of breaking election law. And, he has probably just burned a bridge with the Macon Telegraph, which endorsed Horne in this primary.

About the author

Erick Erickson

View all posts