Columbus mayoral candidate Zeph Baker is the only contender out of six who has not filed a campaign disclosure report this year.
According to the Muscogee County Board of Elections and Registrations, he is now facing up to $1,375 in fines this year for missing deadlines to file either a disclosure of his contributions and expenditures, or an affidavit swearing his campaign does not intend to receive or spend at least $2,500 this year.
Baker said he won’t reveal his contributions because his supporters could be “bullied” were he to identify them in a public record.
He contacted the Ledger-Enquirer last week, saying he wanted to clear up the issue his detractors have spotlighted. He scheduled an interview for Friday morning, then called 30 minutes before the appointment to cancel it.
Baker alleged those opposed to his campaign have stalked him and his supporters.
Asked for a written statement outlining those concerns, he sent this email Friday afternoon:
“Over the past several weeks there have been many questions concerning my Campaign Disclosure Report. While I realize this is nothing more than an attempt by my opponents to slow our momentum, I feel it is time that I cleared up a few things and put an end to the baseless accusations and rumors that have filled the airwaves and pages of social media.
“Over the past few weeks, members of my opponents’ campaigns have targeted several of my campaign supporters, donors and volunteers. Said attacks have ranged from snide remarks, to intimidation tactics by coworkers and supervisors at work, to target hits on social media, which have even featured the homes of my supporters and neighbors. In an effort to protect my supporters from these attacks, I decided that I would pay the fines rather than risk any more of my supporters being victims of dirty campaigning.
“My disclosure is simple, and rather uneventful by most standards, but it does reveal the identity of my supporters, and while not a single one of my financial contributors asked me to remove them or conceal their identity, I felt a sense of responsibility to protect them from the senseless attacks as much as possible. The fine, which is assessed to candidates who fail to file timely, is not at all unusual.”
It is the latest issue to dog the candidate who also has faced questions about his residency and his marriage, as rival Beth Harris has alleged he does not live in Columbus and shares a home with his wife in Newnan, Ga., where the couple filed for a homestead exemption.
Harris has produced documents showing Baker’s wife Sharon Cosby previously filed petitions for divorce and a temporary restraining order, claiming that she wanted exclusive use of their home at 40 Lantana Way in Coweta County, and that Baker could be served court papers at that address.
Baker maintains he lives in Columbus at 1091 Bolton Court, and always has. When Harris challenged his residency in a complaint to the elections board, he produced correspondence showing he has received paychecks and utility bills at that address.
The elections board refused to disqualify him, and a visiting Superior Court judge upheld that decision when Harris appealed.
Now critics are complaining that Baker has not been forthcoming about his finances, having missed an April 7 deadline for which he was fined $125, an April 15 deadline resulting in a $250 fine, and a May 15 deadline for which he’s to be fined an additional $1,000, election workers said.
His next deadline is June 30.
Each of the other five candidates has complied: Harris, Danny Arencibia, Skip Henderson, Charles Roberts and Winfred Shipman.
Though he has not revealed his campaign contributions or expenses, Baker on March 28 filed a “personal financial disclosure statement” regarding his property and business interests. The document is dated March 9, but was not submitted then.
He listed two business entities, Majestic Sunz and Health Matters, each at 1124 13th St., which he said “provide residential and outpatient services to elderly and mental health community.”
He wrote that his wife is a healthcare provider at Essence of Care – Positive Beginnings on Memorial Drive in Stone Mountain, Ga., saying she also provides “outpatient services to mental health community.”
He listed three properties in which he had a “direct ownership interest,” the house on Bolton Court, a rental property at 6976 Boby Court, and the Newnan house he said belongs to his wife.
If Baker does not file a disclosure by July 9, the end of the “grace period” for the report due June 30, he will be fined another $125 on July 14, and additional fines follow if he still does not comply afterward: The total for that report jumps to $375 on July 15 and to $1,375 on Aug. 14.
The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission website shows he still owes $125 for missing a Dec. 31, 2013, report deadline from an earlier run for office.
Baker wrote that he will file his report the day before the election:
“On Monday, I will file a copy of my report and pay my fine, which is what the law requires. The attacks I have personally received during this campaign are shameful. Even more so are the attacks on my family, but to attack citizens for exercising their rights to support a candidate is simply hateful.”