Confirmed: Mailer in GOP House runoff produced by Democrat James Carter

Alan Cole, left, and Meagan Hanson are candidates in the July 26 Republican runoff for House District 80. AJC file photos.

The Republican runoff in House District 80, the near-urban Brookhaven-based seat, has apparently been the subject of some political shenanigans.

But not by either Meagan Hanson or Alan Cole, the two GOP candidates competing for the July 26 runoff and the chance to face incumbent Democratic Rep. Taylor Bennett in November.

James Carter, the Democratic activist and opposition research impresario, has confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he -- and only he -- is responsible for an anonymous mail piece that hit the district's mailboxes in June. The piece attacks not just Cole, but former Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis and Brookhaven Council Member Bates Mattison.

We've reached out to Cole's campaign for comment and will update this post when it arrives. Update 3:39 p.m.: Cole's campaign has responded: 

"It appears that Alan Cole has been the subject of a vicious anonymous attack by the Democratic Party. This kind of dirty trick is a reason not to trust Georgia Democrats in the fall campaign. Alan intends to be the Republican nominee for District 80 and taking our positive message of property tax relief and reigning in county government straight to the voters."

Update 5:02 p.m.: Now Bennett has responded, too: 

"I strongly disagree with the tactics that have been used recently in the HD80 Republican Primary race, regardless of their source or sources. My office and my campaign strive to adhere to the highest standards of transparency and accountability. During the first weeks of my legislative career, I sponsored HB 1016, which would have prohibited sending campaign related mailers without taking responsibility for their content.  I will never participate in anonymous or misleading mailings, and I encourage all candidates in HD 80 and their supporters to focus on the substantive issues that affect our district and our state."

First reported by the Dunwoody Crier, the story has spread quickly on social media. The gist: the mailer purports to be paid for by a group called "Super Friends for Meagan Hanson," but no such committee is registered with the state or has any kind of presence on the Internet.

Hanson, showing impressive investigative skills, was able to trace the mail piece to a particular print house and from there to a bulk mail firm. She personally confronted employees at both places and ultimately was told that a woman named "Sally Carter" paid cash to have it delivered and was given a telephone number for said contact.

More digging determined that Sally Carter is married to James Carter, who is the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.

"I take full responsibility for the mailer," James Carter said. "All of the allegations contained in it are 100% true."

Among those allegations, according to the Crier: that Mattison once filed for bankruptcy and that Cole is a bad landlord. The newspaper's report doesn't mention what is alleged of Davis, but others who have seen the mail piece says it accuses Davis of sexual harassment while mayor. That's most likely referring to "Lysol-gate," a mess that contributed to Bennett's defeat of Davis in a 2015 special election.

Carter is perhaps best known for having unearthed a 2012 video that showed then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney say that his job "is not to worry about" the 47 percent of Americans so poor they don't pay income taxes.

Carter on Tuesday indicated that the real target of the mailer was Davis, not Cole, the current candidate.

"A few years ago, J. Max Davis called my wife and yelled at her for asking his ex-wife about him, which she had done as a favor to me," Carter said. "My wife is not a Democratic activist and her only connection to politics is through me. Davis' extreme overreaction to the circumstances was memorable, as was the way he treated my wife. Since that incident, I have reveled in every opportunity to take a shot at J. Max. He deserves it."

Hanson called the mailer "despicable."

"I do not approve nor would I ever approve of such an attack," she said in a statement. "I will continue to run an upstanding, ethical campaign -- one I can be proud of."