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Newly-elected state lawmaker returns unused campaign funds

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Georgia state Rep. Michael CaldwellHonoring a pledge he made during the campaign, a recently-elected state lawmaker mailed donors a notice this week that their excess contributions to his fundraising account were being returned.

Michael Caldwell, a 23-year-old Republican from Woodstock, sent contributors checks equivalent to 13.8 percent of their total donation, a level proportionate to surplus funds unused from the campaign.

“I would like to take this opportunity to do something unique for a politician: rather than ask you for money, I’d like to offer it back,” Caldwell wrote in a letter obtained by Tipsheet.

“Most politician keeps contributions from previously election cycles to give themselves an edge in future elections against their competition,” he said. “These financial ‘war chests’ allow politicians to use your donations for future campaigns, even if you are unhappy with the way they performed their job in the previous session. This practice does not hold politicians accountable for their actions.”

Caldwell defeated Rep. Charlice Byrd, a four-term Republican, in the primary and went on to defeat token Democratic opposition by a full 54 percent earlier this month.

The GOP comer had previously challenged Byrd, in 2010, but narrowly lost his inaugural bid. It was in that race that he set the precedent for returning unused campaign donations, he said.

“I’m very proud to keep a campaign promise that I made early on and return my contributors’ unused funds,” he said in a statement to Tipsheet. “It is not my place to decide for them whether or not they will support my 2014 campaign simply because they contributed in 2012. I hope to earn their vote and support again, but I leave that decision to them.”

Caldwell has self-imposed some of the tightest fundraising protocols in the state, refusing to accept any contributions from lobbyists, out-of-state donors, or fellow candidates.

He said these restrictions will keep him accountable and responsive to the concerns his district.

“We’ll continue to campaign solely on funding from Georgia’s citizens and business, and we’ll return ally unused funds after an election cycle,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s a better way to campaign and will keep me accountable term to term.”

- James Richardson

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