A former elected official is challenging the credentials and actions of the Forsyth County Tea Party.
A.J. Pritchett filed a complaint Friday with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, contending the tea party has not properly registered with the state as a political action committee or a campaign committee.
“Basically what it comes down to is it doesn’t appear as if the Forsyth County Tea Party is or has applied to be a political action committee nor a campaign committee,” said Pritchett, who served on the county commission from 2001-04.
“But it looks like, based on evidence I have, they’ve been advocating [against] some public referendums, namely the SPLOST vote last fall.
In November, voters narrowly approved a six-year extension of the 1-cent sales tax, also known as a special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST.
Projected to bring in $200 million from June 2013-19, the program will pay for construction of a new courthouse, expanded detention center, road improvements and animal shelter, among other projects.
In his complaint, Pritchett also accuses the tea party of improperly supporting and raising funds for election candidates.
“Now it appears they’re joining in on advocating of support of certain county commissioners for election this year, and it just doesn’t appear they’ve done the proper paper filing to do that,” he said.
“And it also looks like they’re raising money on behalf of a candidate without the proper authorization to do that.”
Pritchett said the candidate he believes the group to be endorsing and raising money for is Dennis Brown, who has announced his intention to challenge county commission District 2 incumbent Brian Tam.
Steve Voshall, chairman of the local tea party, said he was not aware of Pritchett’s complaint, nor had he seen it, but denied any wrongdoing.
“We haven’t endorsed anyone and we don’t collect any money and have not written any checks for any campaigns,” Voshall said.
According to the state Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission’s Web site, a political action committee is any group of people who “receive donations during a calendar year from persons who are members or supporters … and which contributes funds to one or more candidates for public office or campaign committees of candidates for public office.”
A campaign committee is defined as any candidate, person or committee that accepts contributions or makes expenditures to bring about the nomination or election of an individual, or to bring about the approval or rejection of any proposed constitutional amendment, state-wide referendum or proposed ballot question.
Pritchett’s complaint also notes no public record of the Forsyth tea party existed on the Georgia Secretary of State’s Web site until Feb. 23.
Officials with the commission on government transparency and campaign finance could not be reached for comment Friday.
Among the examples Pritchett cites as evidence in his complaint include a billboard last fall in a high traffic corridor that advocated for defeat of the tax referendum.
He also directs the state to the group’s Web site and various e-mails, as well as an online article and videos by Voshall that detail the party’s opposition to the tax extension.
In March, Pritchett contends, the tea party used a commercial vendor to send out a communication soliciting contributions for Brown, the commission candidate. The e-mail was reportedly branded with the local tea party’s logo.
As for the party, Voshall said “our individuals do what they want to do.”
“We might suggest that a candidate meets our core principals and suggest that our members do their own research, but ultimately it’s their money and they’re going to vote and spend it how they want to,” he said.
According to Voshall, some confusion may have arisen during the sales tax vote, which the local tea party did oppose.
“There is a thing called a ballot committee,” he said. “The group that was supporting SPLOST, they raised money to support SPLOST. Well, that’s a ballot committee.
“We never raised money to oppose SPLOST. We did oppose SPLOST, but we never raised money to oppose SPLOST.”
Prichett said he filed the complaint because he believes “everybody needs to follow the same kind of guidelines and rules set up by state ethics board.”
“What’s fair is fair,” he said. “I thought it was appropriate [to file the complaint] since we have two potential infractions here.”
Voshall said he didn’t understand why Pritchett would take such action.
“He obviously hasn’t done his research,” Voshall said. “I don’t know what his beef in this would be. I’ve not had any phone calls or complaints from him on this at all.”
Pritchett said he just wants the group to be investigated.
“I’m just asking [the commission] to look into this and see if I’m right,” he said. “And if I’m right, to take some corrective action.
“I’m not trying to get them in trouble per se. I just want to make sure if they’re going to act like a political action committee that they’re registered as one, and people should know [they are] up front.”