I’ll preface with the fact that I do not live in House District 80, and other than the candidates, I do not believe I know anyone who votes in the district. I know both Catherine Bernard and Meagan Hanson and I would consider both friends. I have not contributed to either House campaign and do not have plans to do so.
Over the last few days, there’s been a media frenzy over an ethics complaint filed by a Hanson supporter. First, the news of the complaint ignited the conversation, and then the response of Bernard to a local paper sent the blaze loose on social media. The problem, I believe, is that the ethics complaint itself has been lost completely in discussion of the “who.” Everyone involved already knows each other, well, because of the divide in the already broken Georgia GOP. My personal opinion that both ladies illustrate a distinct faction of Georgia Republican voters.
The drama seems to be largely confined to the “politico circle,” of which I would consider myself a member. That said, I’ve watched over the last 48-hours as people have used the media to circulate 30,000 foot view facts without honing in on the topic in question. It’s essentially why the ethics complaint process is made a mockery of in the first place, however, that is a different story for a different day. Cutting to the chase: Both sides are guilty of using buzz words to make a point.
I will say that the reporter absolutely did a poor job garnering a response related to the complaint itself. In my day job, I have the opportunity to interview and get statements from candidate and elected officials, and in doing so, I usually communicate in email to avoid tangents and soap boxes. The reporter should have asked specific questions and if they did not, Catherine should have offered specific answers and driven her own narrative. Because neither one of those things happened, the conversation is once again away from the ethical issues and back to an inter-party war that is neither useful nor productive.
I called Catherine myself to get her take on what’s being reported. I asked her point blank to discuss the article and the ethics allegations.
She had the following things to say:
- The office expense began in July 2015 and her DOI to run for office was filed in August 2015.
- The “salon expense” was for a photoshoot specifically for the House race (that was donated in-kind) in Saint Simons. The other salon expense was for a campaign event.
[Whether or not you agree with the use of campaign funds for these events, it’s worth noting that they were not for personal reasons.]
She also said that she plans to file an Amended report for the 2014 race with regard to reimbursements because there was a bulk reimbursement for campaign expenses, office space, and materials, but that there are credible receipts for all of those expenditures. She did not have a campaign debit card prior to 2016 and as a result, she had to pay for items and then reimburse herself and her campaign manager. The Ethics Commission has advised her of exactly what needs to be done.
The Ethics Commission also said that any complaints filed within 30 days of an election are not settled until after the date of the election.
I had the opportunity to see her internal itemized campaign expenditures and my personal belief is that there is no malicious wrongdoing on the part of Catherine Bernard. I also don’t believe she has misused any of her campaign funds. My personal belief is also that this is a massive distraction from a Republican primary race that Republicans claim is so important to reclaim the seat for the Fulton County delegation.