Disqualified Georgia Senate hopeful continues to campaign, raise money

A Stone Mountain woman who was disqualified from running for a Georgia Senate seat earlier this month has continued to campaign, announce endorsements and solicit contributions.

She has also been under investigation by the state ethics commission, which said she failed to report what she raised and spent the last time she ran for the same seat in 2018.

Sabrina McKenzie — who bills herself as the “Dancing Preacher” — filed her candidate paperwork with the state March 3 to run for the seat being vacated by Georgia Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain. She narrowly lost to Henson in the Democratic primary in 2018.

The secretary of state’s office emailed her April 8 and told her the $400 check she wrote to pay the qualifying fee had bounced and she was no longer on the ballot.

Since then, McKenzie has used her campaign Facebook account to solicit donations — as recently as April 13 — asking supporters to donate money using her Cash App or PayPal accounts.

Several attempts to reach McKenzie for comment Friday — by phone, email and her Facebook page — were unsuccessful.

David Emadi, the executive secretary of the state ethics commission, said, “As it relates to allegations of campaign finance violations committed by Senate candidate Sabrina McKenzie during the 2020 election cycle, we are aware of those facts and have opened a new investigation into Ms. McKenzie’s 2020 campaign.”

An April 13 post on her campaign's Facebook account asked supporters to donate to her PayPal and Cash App accounts to replace signs that she said were pulled down or damaged.

On Thursday, McKenzie posted on Facebook that she was hosting a food giveaway, an event that featured her campaign materials. And as recently as April 16, McKenzie shared endorsement videos from supporters.

Four Democrats and one Republican remain on the ballot for Henson’s seat.

Henson defeated McKenzie by 111 votes out of the nearly 14,000 ballots cast in 2018. McKenzie at first challenged those results in court, before dropping the lawsuit.

McKenzie, an ordained minister and liturgical dance instructor, owes the state $250 in late fees for failure to file records of her personal finances, according to the state ethics commission's website. But that may be just the beginning of her issues with the commission.

The last campaign finance report she filed was in April 2018, when she reported raising about $3,500. In May 2018, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she had raised an additional $20,000 from small donations made at fundraising events. There’s no way to document that, though, because she never filed any additional fundraising reports, as required by law.

Ethics commission staffers started investigating a complaint against her for not disclosing what she raised and spent shortly after the primary. They said they made several attempts to serve McKenzie with a commission complaint.

In December, the commission found probable cause that she violated campaign finance laws by not disclosing what she raised and spent on the 2018 race. Among the evidence that her campaign spent money that was never disclosed was a $4,500 check McKenzie paid Clear Channel Outdoor for a billboard and photos and social media posts of campaign billboards, signs, mailings and other materials.

The commission’s decision moved her case to an administrative law judge, who will make a ruling and recommend a penalty if the court finds the commission’s case has merit. The commission could then impose a fine.

Ethics commission staffers say McKenzie never responded to their attempts to contact her, and she did not attend the commission’s December hearing when her case was presented, something that seemed to irk the panel’s chairman, Jake Evans.

“If you are served with a complaint, and it’s contested, you need to show up,” Evans said. “We need to discourage people from not taking their responsibility under the (campaign finance) act seriously.”