ATLANTA - Last October, heavy hitters from across the city gathered at the Echelon Golf Club for a fundraiser for a Political Action Committee called AtlantaNext. The fundraiser was called the Ceasar Mitchell Champions Challenge.
“I know a lot of people are wondering if I'm going to run for mayor of Atlanta” says Ceasar Mitchell. I asked him if AtlantaNEXT is a PAC set up for a mayoral run. His answer: “No, it's not.”
We examined the AtlantaNEXT's fundraising for all of last year. The Golf tournament Sponsorships were as high as $5000. It cost $400 dollars to sponsor a hole, and $800 for a foursome.
At the tournament, we also found sponsors included vendors who are already doing business with the city of Atlanta like airport food vendors Global Concessions and Hojeij Branded Foods.
Leigh Ann Gillis, a 20 year veteran of political fundraising, reviewed what we found and said a golf tournament like that could raise as much as $100,000.
We showed her AtlantaNEXT's other fundraising. We found sponsored events across the country, from Los Angeles and Washington DC, to snazzy events at plush hotels, restaurants, and private homes in Atlanta.
“They definitely raised a nice amount of money, fundraising at that level, with that frequency throughout the year,” says Gillis. “That's typical of a congressman or a state wide elected official.”
So, what exactly does AtlantaNEXT spend all that money on? Trying to get answers to that question was not as easy as it seems.
We first checked with AtlantaNEXT treasurer Keisha Carter Brown. We were told she was busy and she never called back.
We wanted to talk with Ceasar Mitchell following a committee meeting. He went back to his office and sent word, he was busy too.
Later, we got a one page statement from Mr. Mitchell's staff saying "AtlantaNEXT is a registered PAC" and "meets all disclosure requirements."
That didn't tell us much. So we caught up with Ceasar Mitchell at a local development event and tried to get some answers.
Mr. Mitchell wouldn't say how much was raised, and he stated no money was spent on his campaign. But, he did say the PAC spends money on community events he sponsors: for young people, business conferences, and a college prep series.
Stefan Ritter is head of the state of Georgia's Campaign Finance Commission, also known as the Ethics Commission. He says PACs like AtlantaNext must file regular reports of their political contributions just like a candidate.
But, in Georgia, there is a catch. A PAC doesn't have to file until it spends $25,000 on a candidate or his campaign. Ritter says many states have no threshold or a much lower one.
"It's dark money," says Mr. Ritter, "it's money we can not follow."
Ceasar Mitchell says the PAC hasn't filed reports for one reason: “We've not given more than 25,000 to candidates and that is the threshold,” says Mr. Mitchell.
So, there are no reports on file and we have to trust AtlantaNext.
Stefan Ritter says: “I think it is not good for voters of Georgia to just have to trust folks in the political arenas.”