Hopefuls for governor find big-time donors

With 18 months before vote, fund-raising gives early look at leaders

Former Gov. Roy Barnes, the likely front-runner among Democrats, was the only candidate missing from first major campaign finance reporting period of the race. Barnes didn't start raising money until after the end of the filing period, which covered the first six months of the year.

Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, a leading Republican hopeful, began raising money last year, as did Democrat David Poythress, the state's former adjutant general. This was the first time the other candidates had to show how much they'd raised and the names of their major donors.

Political experts say the first reports are important to candidates for a number of reasons.

"It's the easiest money you're ever going to get [as a candidate]," said Matt Towery, a former Republican legislator who runs the Atlanta media and polling firm InsiderAdvantage. "You're going to friends, you're going to former supporters, you are going to people who think they are going to need you and people who think you have a chance. The people you are closest to are going to give you the most money at the beginning."

Rick Dent, a longtime Democratic strategist, said the numbers give people watching the races an idea of who may be able to raise money over the long haul. At this point, there's not much else to go on.

"It's the only numbers you have for the game we're watching," Dent said. "We're 18 months out from an election, and so, other than meaningless poll numbers, the fund-raising numbers give us a clue as to who is doing better than the other candidates."

With that in mind, below is a short analysis of who raised what, from whom, in the 2010 race to replace retiring Gov. Sonny Perdue during the first six months of 2009.

REPUBLICANS:

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal

Deal is the top Republican on the House Subcommittee on Health, and he received at least $55,000 from drug and health care companies, their lobbyists, associations and political action committees.

Deal, who reported raising nearly $980,000, received help from U.S. House colleagues, including Georgia Republicans Tom Price of Roswell and John Linder of Duluth, who contributed $10,000 from their personal PACs.

Linder and Price weren't the only Georgia Republicans to give to their colleague from Gainesville. Other current and former state and federal lawmakers from Georgia gave an additional $70,950.

The state House leadership team was especially generous. House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram), Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek), Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island) and House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin (R-Evans) contributed a combined $21,300. He received about $14,000 from state senators as well. Deal was a state Senate leader before being elected to Congress.

The maximum each contributor can give for the primary election is $6,100. Contributors can give an additional $6,100 for the general election.

State Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah)

Johnson was a GOP leader in the Georgia Senate for several years, and his experience raising money and making Republican connections paid off big time.

Johnson, who raised $962,000 so far, received about $38,000 from state lawmakers, including Senate President Pro-Tem Tommie Williams (R-Lyons), Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) and Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour (R-Snellville).

He's also received money from many of the big-time political donors who often show up on the contribution lists of Georgia governors. Donald Leebern, president of Georgia Crown Distributing and a longtime member of the Board of Regents, and his family gave $36,000. Alfred Jones III, CEO of Sea Island Co. gave $2,000, as did James Reynolds III of Reynolds Plantation fame. Linger Longer, developer of Reynolds Plantation, contributed $3,000. The Tarbutton family, which runs the profitable Sandersville Railroad and has long been among the top contributors to the campaigns of governors, gave $18,000. Businessman Virgil Williams, a former chief of staff to Gov. Zell Miller, gave about $12,000.

Johnson's list includes plenty of political names, including former U.S. Sen. Mack Mattingly, former longtime state senator and DOT commissioner Tom Coleman, former U.S. Senate and gubernatorial nominee Guy Millner and former congressman-turned-gas-company-lobbyist Lindsay Thomas.

More than half of Johnson's contributions came from Savannah.

Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine

Oxendine raised about $416,000 in the first six months of this year, giving him a total of $1.4 million — the most of any Republican candidate. In his latest report, at least $115,000 — about 28 percent — of the money he raised came from people who work in the insurance or in the small loan business. Oxendine regulates those two industries. It is legal for state officials to take campaign money from people who work in industries they regulate. It is not legal for officials to take money directly from the companies they regulate.

On May 17, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that of the $6.6 million Oxendine had raised for various campaigns from 1998 to 2008, at least $2.6 million came from people working in insurance or the small loan business.

Oxendine also reported that he has returned $120,000 in questionable contributions that were funneled to his campaign by two Georgia insurance companies.

The AJC reported May 10 that State Mutual Life Insurance and Admiral Life Insurance Company of America, both headed by Delos "Dee" Yancey III, sent money to Oxendine through 10 Alabama political action committees in 2008. Oxendine's campaign filing shows the money was returned May 11 to the PACs.

Georgia law prohibits statewide campaigns from accepting more than $12,200 for the primary and general elections from one source. The State Ethics Commission is investigating the donations.

Secretary of State Karen Handel

Handel has widely been seen as Gov. Sonny Perdue's candidate in the race, but she's only been in state office for two years, so she may not have the political base of Deal, Johnson and Oxendine. She raised $431,178, most of it coming from metro Atlanta.

Longtime party leader Fred Cooper, who is chairing her campaign, gave $12,200. She received money ($2,000) from Millner, the GOP's nominee for governor in 1994 and 1998 and U.S. Senate in 1996. Millner has also given money to Johnson, Deal, and Oxendine. She received $2,000 from Perdue's former chief of staff, Eric Tanenblatt and his family.

Mark Hennessy of Hennessy Automotive and his family contributed $24,400 to the campaign. And officials with three state contractors, E.R. Snell, Pittman Construction and Yancey Brothers, contributed more than $40,000. Combined, those three businesses were paid more than $210 million for work by the state during fiscal 2008, the last year for which figures were available. E.R. Snell also contributed to Deal, and Louie Pittman III, president of Pittman Construction, gave to Johnson as well.

State Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton)

Scott's initial fund-raising makes him look a bit like a regional candidate, with about 90 percent of the $180,000 he raised coming from south of metro Atlanta. Most of it came from south of Macon.

Scott and relatives contributed a large chunk of the money. He also raised a lot of money from the South Georgia health care industry: His father is a surgeon.

DEMOCRATS:

Attorney General Thurbert Baker

Baker has been in office more than a decade and has a long history of raising money for statewide races. It showed, with Baker collecting $700,000 since he joined the race in April.

About $250,000 of the money came from lawyers and law firms, a major source of funding for his re-election campaigns. Baker received nearly $100,000 from two law firms, their lawyers and family members. He received $48,800 from lawyers of the firm started by late trial lawyer legend Johnnie Cochran. He received the same amount from Joplin, Mo., lawyers Edward and Alison Hershewe and their children.

Baker, who used to represent DeKalb County in the General Assembly, also received contributions from a number of DeKalb County politicians, including U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, who represents the county in Congress, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown and DeKalb County District Attorney Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming.

House Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin)

Porter has been the Democratic leader in the state House since Republicans took control of the chamber in 2005. And yet, Porter received contributions this period from only one of his fellow lawmakers: $3,000 from Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur).

The Dublin newspaper publisher and lawyer had more success raising money from his hometown. More than $76,000 — or about one third of his total — came from Dublin .

Of the more than $230,000 Porter raised since launching his campaign in April, more than $30,000 came from attorneys or law firms and another $48,500 came from the health-care industry, including doctors, hospitals, pharmacists and administrators. An additional $37,000 came from individuals or firms involved in road construction or public transit, including $10,000 from a pair of Massachusetts-based transportation consultants who specialize in high-speed rail and public transit.

Dubose, who owns the newspaper in Dublin, received $3,000 from John Mellott of Marietta, former publisher of the AJC.

Former Adjutant Gen. David Poythress

Poythress proudly reported that he had received a contribution from each of the state's 159 counties. But he raised just $156,000 over the past six months, trailing the other two Democrats who had to file reports and falling behind all but one other candidate, Republican or Democrat.

Still, Poythress' ability to raise money from all corners of Georgia shows he's working the state.

His efforts in recent months netted him more than $27,000 from attorneys and $23,000 from retirees. His military background also served him well, as he raised at least $4,000 from active and retired military personnel.

He has received little backing from politicians and the biggest name on this most recent report may be Bobby Lee Cook, the legendary Georgia defense attorney who was the model for TV's "Matlock" character. He gave $2,000.

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