Friday September 21st, 2018 1:56PM

Unregulated donations build Richardson fund

By The Associated Press
<p>A little-known political committee with ties to Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson has accepted thousands of dollars from lobbying groups and corporations with a financial stake in legislation that Richardson oversees, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday.</p><p>The MMV Alliance Fund, based in Richardson's law office, collected $175,462 through Dec. 31, according to campaign finance reports.</p><p>The records show the committee used the money to compensate aides to Richardson, R-Hiram, and one of his closest allies. It covered credit card bills, cellphone bills, legal fees and polling expenses. It paid thousands of dollars to the speaker's computer consultant.</p><p>Though apparently legal, the committee's activities signal an escalation of political fund-raising at the General Assembly. Party caucuses long have kept accounts to raise money for candidates, but lobbyists and others involved with the Legislature say they can't recall a committee as closely related to a presiding officer as MMV is to Richardson.</p><p>Donors say Richardson and his allies let them know the MMV fund was available to accept their unlimited gifts. Lobbyists say it was clear the donations would benefit the state's first Republican House speaker since Reconstruction.</p><p>"The thinking was there was a new sheriff in town," said Bill Clark, a lobbyist for the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, which gave $5,000 through its political arm. "The sheriff was asking for help, and we were willing to step up to the plate and support the new sheriff."</p><p>Richardson declined to be interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the committee and he did not immediately return a telephone message left at his office Friday by The Associated Press.</p><p>A House aide who files the committee's campaign finance reports, Matt Metcalf, told the Atlanta newspaper that MMV was formed to benefit all House Republicans, not just Richardson.</p><p>"It's not the speaker's PAC by any stretch," Metcalf said. He added, "Everything was done within the scope of the law."</p><p>Neither Richardson's name nor any other legislator's appears on public records the committee has filed.</p><p>One donor said MMV stands for "Majority Makers Victory." Others, though, said it represents the Roman numerals for 2005, the year Richardson ascended to the speaker's post.</p><p>Organized a few days after the 2004 elections, the committee has listed its mailing address as the post office box of Richardson's law firm in Paulding County.</p><p>Of its 72 donors, 15 gave $5,000 or more, exceeding the $4,000 each could have contributed directly to Richardson or any other legislator. Twenty-one of the donors also gave to Richardson's campaign. Seven of them gave MMV and the speaker a combined total greater than the law would let them contribute to a single candidate.</p><p>Lawmakers from both parties long have used largely unregulated political committees to collect donations from lobbyists and others; top officials then dole out the money to individual candidates. The Republican Senatorial Trust, the Democratic Legislative Caucus and the House Republican Trust, for example, have raised money for their parties' candidates for years.</p><p>While other leadership funds spend heavily on donations to candidates, records show that MMV made no campaign contributions in 2004 or 2005.</p><p>Instead, the committee paid Richardson's spokeswoman, who is a state employee, $6,451 in consulting fees. It paid another House staff member $9,100 for work last year, and it gave more than $9,000 to two lawyers working for the speaker and a legislative committee.</p><p>MMV's largest expense was $47,161, for technology consulting and equipment from a computer adviser to the speaker's office. A newsletter for House employees said the consultant trained employees on a new computer system.</p><p>Metcalf, the House aide, said Republican leaders intend to use the committee "to expand our Republican majority." He declined to disclose specific plans.</p><p>Of MMV's 72 donors, eight are registered lobbyists and 31 others employ lobbyists. Ten donors do business with state government. The biggest donor, the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, which gave a $20,000 check last September, has a large presence in the Capitol, with 14 lobbyists.</p>
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