SAVANNAH, Ga. - Facing claims that he bought a key endorsement, 12th Congressional District candidate Doug Haines says it isn't so.
"No endorsement was paid for," the former state senator from Athens said after a debate this week at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah.
The Savannah Business League's backing for Mr. Haines has stirred up the race to decide which Democrat will take on freshman incumbent Republican Max Burns in November.
The league's political action committee spearheads efforts to mobilize Savannah's black voters, a potentially pivotal factor in the July 20 primary election. All four candidates are white.
Savannah attorney Tony Center said Monday that the league offered him its endorsement if he paid the group $50,000 to help with his campaign.
"I do not make a deal that should not be made," Mr. Center said. "I do not keep silent, when, to the detriment of the community, such a deal is offered."
League Chairman Benjamin Polote says his group's backing isn't for sale. But he concedes discussing a league endorsement - and league-coordinated electioneering - with Mr. Center, Mr. Haines and another candidate, Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow.
Mr. Haines agreed to pay about $76,000 for help from the league, Mr. Polote said.
Mr. Haines denied buying an endorsement and said he won't bankroll the program. It would include office space, phones, large signs and people to distribute brochures, arrange schedules, organize rallies and get voters to the polls, Mr. Polote said.
Mr. Haines abruptly broke off an interview when reminded of Mr. Polote's comments.
"I've answered," he said, turning to speak to someone else.
On Monday, Haines spokesman Martin Matheny said he wasn't aware of any agreement to buy campaign services run by the league. But, he added, "If they help us with anything like that, we'll certainly reimburse them for their expenses."
Mr. Haines and the other candidates are required to report all major campaign expenditures to the Federal Election Commission. The next report is due July 8.
The support-for-sale question was raised at the debate by Tom Barton, a Savannah Morning News editorial page editor.
Mr. Barton asked whether the league's conduct was "a pimping of the black community" funded by "white candidates who would rather write checks as opposed to working in neighborhoods."
Mr. Center's answer was the shortest. "Yes, Tom," he responded. "That's an absolutely wonderful question."
Doug Haines: Candidate for Congress says he didn't pay for an endorsement from the Savannah Business League.