Mayoral candidates use tax dollars for newsletters

A FOX 5 I-Team investigation has found taxpayers have spent more than $60,000 to mail out postcards, flyers, and even a 56-page color brochure for two candidates for Mayor.

Keisha Lance Bottoms and Ceasar Mitchell say they are routine mailings done all the time.

But one government watchdog says the timing during campaign season raises questions.

“The worst part is the money. Spending taxpayer money to campaign,” says Sara Henderson, director for good government group, Common Cause.

After we began seeing various flyers, we filed an Open Records Request for all the mailings done by all the Mayoral candidates who held public office since January of this year.  Mailings paid for by taxpayers. We wanted to know, simply, who was mailing what in the middle of the intense political campaign to become Atlanta's next mayor.

We started with the front-runner in the polls, Mary Norwood, a district-wide councilwoman. What has she mailed? She said it's actually simple.

“It's a campaign year, so all distributions we've done have been paid for by our campaign account,” says Norwood.

Kwanza Hall's staff emailed me saying he too hasn't sent out any mailers.

Vincent Fort, who was a state legislator, said he didn't send out any mailings before he stepped down.

The Fulton County press office said John Eaves didn't mail anything out before he stepped down as Commission Chairman in Fulton County.

Peter Aman, Cathy Woolard, and Michael Sterling don't hold public office, so they don't have access to taxpayer funds.

Then, we found Ceasar Mitchell, Atlanta city council president, sent out two flyers.  One, is a long time, pet cause of his: Atlanta Slow Down campaign

But, on the back, it looks like a campaign flyer.

Sara Henderson is director of government watchdog agency, Common Cause.

“Though the message is good, drive safely. It’s a little suspect in a campaign year,” says Henderson.

Ceasar Mitchell says he puts his picture and name prominently on his mailings so constituents will know who is sending them the information. As you can see he did on this four-page, 2016 Year in Review mailing, also sent out this year.

I pointed out that all the color pictures looked like campaign ads.

“We've done this consistently while in office, during campaign season, and not in the campaign season,” says Mitchell.

Ceasar Mitchell's two mailings cost taxpayers $20,527 dollars

But Ceasar Mitchell's 4 page, year-end review pales in comparison to District 11 Council Woman Keisha Lance Bottoms mailing. A 56 page, color, glossy Annual Review. Including some 80 pictures of Ms. Bottoms.

Ms. Bottoms represent about 35,000 in District 11 in SW Atlanta.  She says she has been mailing flyers to constituents ever since she was in office.

But this end of the year review, similar to ones she has done in the past, was mailed all over the city, outside her district, to people who can't vote for her as a sitting councilwoman, but can vote for her for Mayor.

Bottoms say her constituents like getting information, like know what's happening, and want to read about it. She also showed us a 2013 email from the then ethics office  telling her it was ok if she mailed flyers before qualifying.  The email exchange doesn't mention whether it was ok to mail newsletters outside her district.

But Sara Henderson sees it differently saying it is a waste of taxpayer money. “Flipping through the pages, almost every page is a picture of Keisha with her name. Which, anybody that has ever looked at campaign knows, that’s campaign literature, “says Henderson.

Bottoms says her Annual report and other mailings in 2017 cost taxpayers $40,084.  How does she explain it?

“My biggest problem is my opponents don't have 60 pages’ worth of work to show for what they've done all year,” says Bottoms.