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|Atlanta gay voter files ethics complaint in state judicial race|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|July 26, 2012 10:34|
A gay Atlanta voter filed an ethics complaint against Fulton Magistrate Judge Melynee Leftridge on Wednesday accusing Leftridge of an “apparent elaborate scheme to funnel some $18,500 to a company responsible for maintaining a website www.pirouettesexy.com” that features “pictures of scantly clad women.”
But Leftridge counters that the company she paid — Pirouette Companies — provides legitimate campaign services, and notes it has also been used by several other candidates, including openly gay State Rep. Simone Bell.
Leftridge faces openly gay attorney Jane Morrison in a non-partisan race for an open Fulton County State Court seat to be decided in the primary just five days away. Morrison could not immediately be reached for comment on the complaint against her opponent.
Charlie Stadtlander, who is gay and a former political candidate, filed the ethics complaint July 25 with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
"The most troubling of these allegations is an apparent elaborate scheme to funnel campaign contributions to a company responsible for maintaining a website www.pirouettesexy.com … the Pirouette Dance Company, whose name was changed to Pirouette Company with the Secretary of State in February 2012, currently maintains a website featuring pictures of scantly clad women and a current schedule of dates and fees,” Statdlander said in a statement.
Statdlander said he didn't understand why, apparently, a judicial candidate was paying close to $20,000 to a dance company that offers classes on strip teasing and pole dancing. The company also offers boot camps and personal fitness training.
"According to documents filed by Leftridge’s campaign with the Ethics Commission, over $18,500 has been paid to Pirouette Company. If accurate, this would appear to demonstrate a clear violation of Georgia [law] which requires contributions to be spent on legitimate campaign expenses,” he said.
"While any campaign finance violations by any candidate are serious, the fact that the alleged violations against Leftridge are so blatant and with respect to the Judicial office she is seeking, if proven accurate, these actions would be exceptionally troubling. The public puts faith in its judges that laws and rules are being followed,” Stadtlander added.
Stadtlander said in an interview he was not working for Morrison's campaign and did not know her well but that he did know Morrison's partner, Joan Garner, and held a fundraiser for her campaign to become the first openly gay Fulton County Commissioner.
The Georgia Secretary of State's website shows that Pirouette Dance Company did change its name to Pirouette Companies on Feb. 29. The president of the company who signed the document for the name change is listed as Keyla A. Jackson.
Jackson is also listed as the owner of Piroutte Dance Company with the website http://www.pirouetteco.com/. This dance company targets young children and features of photo of Jackson as the owner. The other Pirouette Dance Company at www.pirouettesexy.com does not list an owner but features the same photo of Jackson under its “about us” link.
Leftridge said she was unaware of any dance company and did not know Jackson personally but was aware of her affiliation with Pirouette Companies.
Leftridge said she paid Pirouette Companies, and not any of its affiliations, the $18,500 for field work such as phone banking, strategic planning and research.
"On June 4th, The Committee to Elect Leftridge to State Court Judge retained Pirouette Companies to provide specific campaign related duties which are as follows: leafleting, canvassing, research and data, strategic planning and phone banking. Our research shows that Pirouette Companies was retained by several other campaigns, including the statewide campaign for Citizens for Transportation Mobility (T-Splost), to provide similar services this election cycle,” Leftridge said.
In fact, Pirouette Companies is shown to be paid by such candidates as lesbian state Rep. Simone Bell, LGBT-friendly state Rep. Pat Gardner and Dax Lopez, who is running for DeKalb State Court and endorsed by LGBT advocacy organization Georgia Equality.
"We are extremely concerned about the false allegation that the Leftridge campaign has been involved in a scheme to funnel campaign contributions to a disreputable company. This allegation is false and Fulton County voters can be assured that the Leftridge Campaign has operated with the highest integrity,” said Leftridge.
Stadlander also made other allegations in his ethics complaint:
• Filing the July 9 finance disclosure on July 20, past the deadline.
• Accepting campaign contributions and incurring expenditures as early as April 9, 2012, in advance of Leftridge filing her Declaration of Intent to Accept Contributions on May 23, 2012.
• Receiving campaign contributions in excess of the $2,500 state law imposed contribution limit. According to Leftridge’s disclosure report dated July 20, 2012, starting in April 2012, her campaign received a series of contributions from Leftridge herself totaling $4,844.
But according to the Georgia Campaign Finance Act, candidate contribution limits do not apply to the candidates themselves.
"The contribution limitations established by this Code section shall not apply to a loan or other contribution made to a campaign committee or candidate by the candidate or a member of the family of the candidate,” the act states.
In an email response to Stadtlander’s allegations, Leftridge stated, “On July 20, 2012, the Committee to Elect Melynee Leftridge Fulton County State Court Judge filed a campaign disclosure report with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. The deadline for filing disclosure reports for this election cycle was June 30th, (allowing for a nine day grace period through and including July 9th).
“The penalty for late filing is $125.00 which was paid by Judge Leftridge on July 24th. All financials were fully disclosed in the disclosure report. Judge Leftridge did not accept any contributions from the public prior to filing the Declaration of Intent. No citation has been issued by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission in regard to any portion of the subject disclosure report, other than the fine imposed for filing the disclosure late,” she explained.
Campaign disclosure reports show Morrison has just under $18,300 on hand in the final days leading into the July 31 primary while Leftridge has close to $27,000 on hand.
Editor's Note: Jane Morrison also filed her campaign disclosure statement late. All reports were due June 30 and Morrison filed her original report July 10 and an amended report on July 18.
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