Young Republicans internal strife ends up in court

DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Tangela Barrie took a parental tone with the feuding board of the Georgia Young Republicans Friday, telling both sides, in effect, to  use your words.

It was the second time in seven days the parties had appeared before her to work out a simmering disagreement between the leaders of the club over access to the group's financial records.

"I was all ears and ready to listen," she said, referring to the original hearing Aug. 19, which was cut short when the two sides came to a sudden agreement. “We need to be as efficient as we possibly can.”

Club leaders are accusing former chairman Jason Shepherd of being unreasonable in his demands for records. Meanwhile, Shepherd strongly suggested current chairman Cameron Fash has misappropriated money from the group.

Fash would not comment on the dispute.

The Young Republicans, whose members are up-and-comers generally in their 20s and 30s, are supposed to be grooming the next generation of political leaders.

“We’re not going to comment on whether this reflects a lack of discipline,” said group spokesman Robert Lee.

According to court records and e-mails between the groups, the disagreement began July 1 when board member Joel Natt, unsatisfied with a recent audit of the club's finances, asked to inspect the financial records. Natt said he was concerned about unauthorized expenses and reimbursements not approved by the board.

The amounts are relatively small. For instance, Natt said the state club lent $355 to the Fulton County Young Republicans to purchase copies of Karl Rove's book in preparation for a book signing.

“There is no paper trail to show [reimbursement]," he said, adding that he has seen examples of “poor record keeping, poor administration … and possible impropriety.”

Lee would not comment on the accusation "because of the intensity of the legal proceedings that are going on.”

Through court filings and written statements, club officials have said Shepherd is presenting a “moving target” of documents that Fash and others had to scramble to collect.

Members of the club include both aspiring and serving politicians. Both Shepherd and Natt have run for state House seats, and Fash is the deputy director of the Georgia Office of Workforce Development, a position he took after serving as a legislative aide, according to his resume on LinkedIn. Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, is a member of the board.

The two sides appeared in Barrie's courtroom Aug. 19 for a hearing that was cut short when club officials abruptly agreed to turn over all the requested documents. But when Shepherd and his attorney met a few hours later with Fash and the club's attorney, Shepherd was asked to sign an agreement to keep the records confidential, including a pledge not to turn them over to the police.

"I think it's very telling that the deal breaker on releasing the documents was an agreement not to release it to law enforcement," said David Lockhart, Shepherd's attorney.

John Jett, who represented the club, said the confidentiality agreement was just insurance that Shepherd would not misuse the records.

“He said nothing about starting a criminal investigation or anything else that would expand this proceeding," Jett told Barrie. “Very few people or organizations would like to have their documents shared with law enforcement.”

Friday's hearing was to determine whether the club was in contempt of a consent order last week that was supposed to end the suit. Barrie did not find club officials in contempt.

The internal fight comes as the Georgia Young Republicans are preparing to host a meeting of the national organization in Atlanta in November. Natt said that is why it is so important that there be no question about how the club uses its money.

Natt said the meeting will bring in about 200 people at around $100 a head. In addition, he said, large corporations will line up with sponsorship money to curry favor with the young leaders of Georgia's majority party.