12th District campaign donations questioned

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — Doubts have surfaced over whether big donations to congressional hopeful Wright McLeod came from the people he says they did.

The Augusta attorney is one of four Republicans vying for a chance to take on 12th District incumbent Democrat John Barrow. After boundary changes that favored Republicans and prompted Barrow to move from Savannah to Augusta, the 12th is up for grabs.

The campaign of another GOP contender, Augusta businessman Rick Allen, says it views several donations to McLeod of $2,500 – the most allowed by law – as “questionable.”

Allen campaign manager Scott Paradise raised the possibility that listed donors may have been reimbursed for checks they wrote. That practice, which is illegal, conceals the real source of the money and sometimes allows an end run around the $2,500 limit.

Meanwhile, a complaint by Allen against McLeod involving other issues is pending before the Federal Election Commission.

McLeod campaign manager Mike Allen said that, to the best of his knowledge, none of McLeod’s campaign cash is from anyone other than those listed as donors.

“Neither the campaign nor Wright McLeod has reimbursed any donor for their contributions,” he said. “If we had direct knowledge that a donor’s contribution was made in an illegal manner, we would take appropriate action in accordance with the FEC guidelines.”

But Mike Allen said the campaign has “no direct knowledge that any of our contributions are anything other than honorable, valid and made by our supporters of their own accord.”

So far, there’s no proof to the contrary.

However, some $2,500 donors are people of apparently limited means who had never before donated to a congressional campaign.

Two donors seemed to know little about McLeod’s views. Two gave on the same day after one of them said their boss, also a $2,500 donor, discussed the campaign with them.

One had voted only once. One wrote a check the same day her boss did. Other donors declined to be interviewed.

“I learned a long time ago that where there is smoke there is fire,” Paradise said, “and there is certainly a great deal of smoke surrounding Wright McLeod’s entire campaign.”

Official records show Brittany Best voted only in the 2008 general election and never gave to a federal or state-level campaign in Georgia until she gave McLeod $2,500.

Best, 24, is an executive assistant with Mullins Management in Evans. Her boss, Joe Mullins, gave McLeod $2,500 on Nov. 10. Until recently, Best held a second job, working at a Pizza Joint.

On the same day Best donated $2,500, so did Heather Fehr, another executive assistant to Mullins. Like Best, Fehr had never given to a federal-level campaign. Fehr didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

Best said in a phone interview that she recalled a discussion at work with Mullins and Fehr about the McLeod campaign. She also said she knew Fehr gave to McLeod the same day she did.

Asked whether Mullins suggested she contribute, she responded, “I wasn’t forced.”

Records show that McLeod, a real estate attorney, has done at least some work with Mullins’ company, and Best said she’s met him “quite a few” times.

“He seems like a great guy and like somebody I want to support,” she said, adding that McLeod “plays a big part in our business.”

But Best said she’d never been to a McLeod campaign event. Nor could she describe any of his views or proposals that she likes.

She said neither Mullins nor anyone else in the company reimbursed her for her donation.

Best said she doesn’t have money problems, adding that her husband is an Army officer. But Army records indicate that he is a corporal.

When asked repeatedly how and why she decided to give $2,500, she hung up.

On Jan. 11, Tina Miller of Hephzibah, who never had contributed before to a federal campaign, gave $2,500.

Miller, an office manager at K&N Construction in Martinez, works for Kenneth Wayne Newman, who gave $2,500 on the same day. She did not return two phones calls seeking comment.

Her husband, Benjamin Miller, said he and his wife have known McLeod for “a long time” and called him “one of the most honest persons I have ever known.”

Asked whether his wife might have had help with the contribution, he answered, “I’m not going to get into my wife’s financial affairs.”

Newman – a first-time congressional donor – said he was unaware of Tina Miller’s contribution and didn’t discuss the campaign with her. But he said she knows McLeod, who he said has handled real estate closings for his company.

“I have known him for a long time,” Newman said of McLeod, whom he called a “personal friend.”

“He’s a very honest person,” he said. “I think he will make a good effort.”

Asked what he thought McLeod stands for or what he might accomplish in Congress, he replied, “I think they all talk a lot of junk. All we can do is hope for the best.”

Another $2,500 donation Paradise cited was from Frances Allen, Mike Allen’s wife and a former personal assistant to McLeod at his law firm.

Frances Allen, now the scheduler for the campaign, was paid $4,000 during the first quarter of 2012. Last year, she gave the campaign $2,500.

Both Allens said the $4,000 was for work she did and that she wasn’t reimbursed – directly or indirectly – for the $2,500 donation.

Frances Allen said she donated because “I support what he stands for and he’s a good man who deserves my support and would be a great congressman.”

In a related development, McLeod supporter David Barbee said nine donations to Allen and two to GOP candidate Lee Anderson deserve scrutiny.

Although three people listed as unemployed gave a total of $1,000 to Allen, four other donors listed as homemakers or housewives gave a total of $4,750.

Paradise insisted that all donations to the Allen campaign were legal.

“Unlike Wright McLeod, ... Rick W. Allen respects the law and every contribution made to our campaign was legal,” he said.

Reagan Williams, the campaign manager for Anderson, a state representative from Grovetown, said much the same.

“All of our contributions are legal and have been appropriately reported,” Williams said.

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 07/16/12 - 08:52 am

Yes, the donors appear to be novices and the donations appear suspicious. But the real problem is the donation limits. These laws limiting donations to politicians should be repealed. They are a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. Money is a form of speech, and people should be free to do what they want with their own money.

Iwannakno 07/16/12 - 09:46 am
Looked at Allen's too..

Lot of housewives on his and some of questionable means. So? If you cannot prove it you are just using it to disparage someone you are running against. Want my vote? Stick to the issues. Run on your record and values not by bashing the other guy.

Dixieman 07/16/12 - 11:20 am
Little Lamb

Absolutely right! I am a First Amendment absolutist too.

RetiredArmyToo 07/16/12 - 02:47 pm
This is true because Rick Allen and Scott Paradise say so!

Rick Allen raises questions about donations and this somehow becomes factual news? What really strikes me in this article is how many of those “questioned” donations came from women and two from military families. Rick Allen feels women are of “limited means” and military families in the 12th District lack the capacity to freely choose who they want representing them in Congress. I know the Allen family is going for a trifecta this election season but this is just ridiculous. For the record, a Corporal is a Noncommissioned Officer, bet her quote was taken out of context. This Paradise kid is like the king of propaganda and Peterson is his puppet. Where there is smoke there is fire? Might be all that smoke Rick Allen is blowing by way of Paradise.

BAllen 07/16/12 - 03:19 pm
From the daughter's desk..

I'm the daughter of Mike and Fran Allen.
I do not agree with many of Wright's political viewpoints. I personally would not vote for him, but one thing is for sure, he is an honest man. My mother has worked with him for at least 6 years. He provided our family with stability, and I appreciate that greatly. He gave her a great job, great pay. He even gave me a short summer job for a day to teach me the value of working hard. He is a very admirable man. He does things he does not have to do for people, simply because he wants to help.
And this is exactly what the donors here are doing. They donated this money, their own hard earned money, because they believe in that same message. How dare you try to paint these honest, hardworking people as criminals. Wright makes lifelong friends from his closing business. He has a kind heart that people admire. They want to show him that they support him. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that some people who donate may not be all that into politics. They just believe he is a genuine, good man.
He wasn't a politician before this you know. Not any of you were. At least he realizes this and doesn't try to slander innocent people in a paper that thousands of people read. Its like high school gossip. Sickening.
These stupid, pathetic small town political stabs are doing more harm to you, Rick Allen.

soullessconservative 07/16/12 - 03:23 pm
For fire to exist, one needs 3 ingredients:

For fire to exist, one needs 3 ingredients: oxygen, fuel, and a heat source. To be sure, Rick Allen's campaign has been blowing a lot of hot air since the beginning. The only problem is that there is no fuel for his "fire." Scott Paradise claims "where there is smoke there's fire." I'm more inclined to say, where there's Scott Paradise, there's another dismal, losing campaign.

avidreader 07/17/12 - 09:45 am
Fishy Contributions!

I fully understand the value of $2,500 in a middle-class family. It's a lot of cash. Maybe the suspicious donors came across a small windfall of money and decided to splurge on a political campaign. Maybe an inheritance rolled their way, or they cashed in an annuity, or received an overdue tax refund. Maybe the connection among these people is purely coincidental. They all experienced a bit of good fortune at the same time. It is possible!

Maybe the smoke is blowing McLeod's way. This seems like an easy problem to solve. The average monthly flow of one's checking account would surely dictate one's financial stability -- without an infusion of windfall-cash. Maybe Ms. Best and Ms. Fehr both cancelled their vacation plans so they could offer support for Mr. McLeod. It is possible!

"Maybe" is my word of the day.

itsanotherday1 07/17/12 - 03:41 pm
1. I don't personally know

1. I don't personally know either one; Wright has done a closing for us.

2. I have heard negatives on Allen, but they may just be personal vendettas or gossip for all I know.

3. Not only should they do away with contribution limits for First Amendment reasons; following the money will tell you a lot about a candidate by who is supporting them. Pretty easy then to see if there is some quid pro quo going on after they are elected.

jbartley 07/17/12 - 08:47 pm
some one need to look in to

I think there might be a business conection Wayne Newman and Wright McLoed.

johncapes 07/19/12 - 07:14 pm
Something does not compute

The ladies appear to be washing money for their employers, to make $2500 contributions, why not $100 which would be more inline with their means? Their answers did not compute either! I like Wright, and he closed the loan on my new home, but smell is smell, no matter where it comes from! Common sense tells you something is astray.

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