ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has uncovered a connection between the new Atlanta mayor’s campaign and a top county election official.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Aaron Diamant found more than $3,600 in payments from the campaign of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to a consulting firm that has ties to Ralph Mays Jones Sr., one of Fulton County Election Office’s most senior leaders.
Legal experts told Diamant it’s a clear conflict of interest.
“It’s a really bad look. Let’s at least start with that,” said former federal prosecutor Caren Morrison.
Finance records obtained by Channel 2 Action News show those payments came at the height of December’s mayoral runoff race, which Bottoms won by a razor-thin margin.
“It’s almost like saying, having a big arrow going, ‘Hey, look at me. I’m doing something corrupt. Check it out,’” Morrison said.
The Bottoms campaign finance report from January, which Channel 2 Action News found online, shows the payments to RJ Mays Consulting came in two chunks – one four days before and the other the day of the December runoff election.
“You do have to wonder what the registration manager was doing with a consulting firm working with one of the candidates,” Morrison said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the elections office said, “RJ Mays Consulting, Inc. is NOT owned by department employee, Ralph Jones, Sr., Registration Chief. The company is owned by his son, Ralph Jones, Jr. Ralph Jones, Sr. is listed as the Registered Agent and has stated that he was not involved in the company’s operation.”
According to his LinkedIn profile, Ralph Jr. served as the Bottoms campaign’s social media director.
And while documents the consulting firm filed with the state lists Ralph Jr. as the incorporator, Georgia State University law school’s Clark Cunningham called it a clear conflict of interest for Ralph Sr., the company’s official point person.
“If it was discovered then, he should have probably been suspended on the spot, and probably fired,” Cunningham said.
The payments surfaced as the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office conducts a forensic review of the runoff. The probe sparked by allegations of irregularities, specifically the mishandling of absentee ballots.
A city spokesperson sent Channel 2 Action News the following statement:
“Mr. Jones Jr. worked on the campaign as a social media director. He was one of many young people we were fortunate to have engaged with our campaign. His hard work and long hours were greatly appreciated; and, as our public campaign disclosures make clear, he was paid for his expertise accordingly.”
Jones Jr. also sent a statement saying his father, the elections official, had no financial stake in the company or a role in its day-to-day operations.
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