Money may not buy happiness, but in politics it can certainly help make your friends happy.
The members of Columbia County's legislative delegation recently filed their year-end financial disclosures with the Georgia secretary of state, detailing where their campaign donations have come from and what the money has been spent on.
While the headlines are buzzing about questionable donations to national figures from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, state officials are more likely to receive modest donations from local bankers or political action committees.
Because it makes sense to assess their campaign checkbooks by the amount of money actually in them, here are some highlights from Columbia County's delegation ranked in reverse order of the amount of money the candidates' had available to spend as of Dec. 31:
State Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta. Cash on hand: $17,925.
Burmeister's war chest seems awfully small for someone who has become such a lightning rod.
Her big donors include retired banker Monty Osteen and a scattering of business- and medical-related political action committees. Also notable is local businessman Ben Brush, father of former state Sen. Joey Brush, who donated $1,000. Big Ben also gave $1,000 each to Burmeister's fellow House members, Barry Fleming and Ben Harbin.
To no surprise, Big Ben didn't give any money to state Sen. Jim Whitehead, who defeated his son in 2004. But Burmeister did, donating $500 to Whitehead's campaign. She also gave $2,500 to Gov. Sonny Perdue and to Georgia's Republican Party, along with smaller donations to the Columbia and Richmond County Republicans.
State Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans. Cash on hand: $27,627.
Whitehead received donations from dozens of local donors, mostly because of a big-ticket fund-raising dinner he held Nov. 15.
He also received hefty donations from several local businessmen and women, and a scattering of medical- and transportation-related PACs.
Whitehead gave $5,000 to Perdue, $3,750 to the state GOP and $500 to the county party. He also donated to Brian Kemp for state agriculture commissioner, Casey Cagle for lieutenant governor and Bill Stephens for secretary of state.
State Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans: $86,835.
As chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Harbin constantly hears jokes about holding the state checkbook. With a long list of donations from lobbyists and political action committees covering a broad range of interests, Harbin has a pretty hefty checkbook of his own.
Harbin donated $5,000 to Perdue, $1,000 to Stephens and $1,000 to Deke Copenhaver, with donations to other politicians in smaller amounts " including $500 to the state GOP, but none to the local party.
And the biggest war chest belongs to:
State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem: $100,946.
Fleming, the House Republican Party Whip, took in a mix of donations from the usual lobbyists and PACs, but a hefty number of local donations, too.
Fleming was tightest when it came to writing checks, however: While he gave $10,000 to Perdue, no other politician or party received Fleming's support in this latest reporting period.
State officials are prohibited from raising money while the legislature is in session, so the amount the lawmakers have on hand is all they'll have to work with until the General Assembly gavels to a close in a couple of months.
They can probably scrape by until then.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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