Paulding airport commercialization opponents need not reveal backers
A plane sits at Paulding County Airport in Dallas which officials have tried to expand for commercial air service, much to the chagrin of Delta and the city of Atlanta. Credit Hyosub Shin HSHIN@AJC.COM
Some have speculated that Delta Air Lines is secretly funding the grassroots organization of residents fighting the project.
The developer behind the Paulding airport expansion, Silver Comet Terminal Partners, wants to determine whether a resolution to withdraw support for commercialization. approved by county commissioners, was really drafted by Delta.
In a unanimous ruling Monday, the appellate court panel reversed a decision by a Paulding County Superior Court judge that representatives of the grassroots group must testify about their source of funding.
The court of appeals said that “the information requested is not relevant to the underlying dispute,” which revolved around a breach of contract claim and attorneys fees.
The court’s ruling does not settle the broader legal question of whether 501(c)4 organizations can be forced to disclose their sources of funding in Georgia court cases.
Still, it’s a victory for attorneys for the grassroots organization called The Committee to Protect Paulding County, which argued that it doesn’t matter who is funding their effort to oppose the airport commercialization.
The Committee to Protect Paulding County, a 501(c)4 nonprofit advocacy group run by Republican consultant Chip Lake, argued the group is entitled to anonymous political speech under the First Amendment. Lake maintained the identity of donors to the group is privileged and refused to answer questions about his organization’s members and contributors.
Delta said it “believes the correct ruling was made. We weighed in on the appeal to defend our own right and the right of any other Georgia citizen under the First Amendment to engage in protected political activity without fear of harassment by litigants like Silver Comet in private litigation.”
Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport including Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, one of the world's largest carriers, and Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport. She has covered airlines for about 20 years, graduated from Harvard and has a master's degree from Northwestern.