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GOP hearing set for primary challenge

A state Republican committee will meet Wednesday to review a primary election challenge from Jeff Peacock, who lost the state Senate District 22 primary to Danny Joyner.

And according to state elections officials, there is little precedent on the issue involved in the challenge beyond what is in the state’s Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Peacock, an Atmore businessman and chairman of the Escambia County Republican Party, alleges that Joyner did not file proper financial disclosure forms with the secretary of state’s office. Joyner has denied the allegations.

Peacock said the challenge is not personal.

“One thing I want to make clear is that this is not about Danny, it’s not about me, it’s not about me trying to get back on the ballot or trying to get Danny off the ballot, it’s about abiding by the law,” Peacock, who owns The Paper Station in Atmore, said. “The rules are clear in terms of reporting and for whatever reason, Danny, it appears, if he exceeded $10,000 as I believe he did, then for whatever reason, he did not abide by the law and there are consequences for that.”

According to the Fair Campaign Practices Act, the Alabama Secretary of State’s office requires all candidates running for state senate to file paperwork should contributions including in-kind donations and expenditures of $10,000 or more. Peacock believes Joyner’s spending exceeded that threshold, which prompted him to contest his June 1 primary loss this week, which has him losing to the Brewton businessman 4,979 to 4,761.

“Based on the advertising I’ve seen Danny doing, especially the billboards, it seems clear to me that he exceeded that $10,000 threshold, but he did not file the required forms to the Secretary of State,” Peacock said.

Joyner said that his billboards, which included a “not a paid political advertisement” disclaimer at the bottom, were donated by the owner of the billboards, Bill Salter with Bill Salter Advertising Inc.

“We had no input on the billboards,” Joyner said.

A spokesman for the Alabama secretary of state’s office said there are no court opinions or attorney general’s opinions that specifically address this kind of issue. “It may be a case of first impression,” Rob Johnston said. “This issue has never been interpreted.”

Joyner said he had spoken with state officials who told him the billboards did not need to be listed on his campaign finance report because they were not part of his campaign.

But Peacock said he believes donations such as Joyner’s billboards falls under the in-kind contribution portion of the state’s requirements.

“Basically, that’s another way of saying that it was an in-kind donation,” Peacock said. “Just because someone donates it to you, there is still value to it and that should have been reported.”

Joyner believes differently. “It’s his First Amendment right,” he said of Salter.

Alabama’s Fair Campaign Practices Act states that a contribution includes “a gift, subscription, loan, advance, deposit of money or anything of value, a payment, a forgiveness of a loan, or payment of a third party, made for the purpose of influencing the result of an election.”

But it also states that expenditures do not include “the use of real or personal property and the cost of invitations, food, or beverages, voluntarily provided by an individual to a candidate or political committee in rendering voluntary personal services on the individual’s residential or business premises for election-related activities.”

State GOP spokesman Philip Bryan said the hearing will be held at party headquarters in Montgomery at 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 16. Both sides will have an opportunity to present their case. Bryan said the steering candidate committee will hear arguments and review advisory opinions in the matter, but making a decision on the candidate is necessary by June 17, when names are due to be placed on the ballot.

A review of attorney general’s opinions on the FCPA did not turn up any specifically related to the issue described in Peacock’s complaint.

Bryan said there is a precedent in the party for removing a candidate who does not follow the reporting rules. A Calhoun County judicial candidate in 2008 did not file a report as required and was removed from the ballot by the party.

Peacock said the GOP has the opportunity to appoint another candidate to the ballot should Joyner be removed. Bryan confirmed that it does not have to be the candidate’s opponent.

“I have offered that to state party because I want to make it abundantly clear, this is not about me trying to get on the ballot,” Peacock said. “I have a list of several, good quality candidates that I would suggest to the state party that would be very good candidates for this seat.”

Peacock said he would be providing that list to the state party. He said if there is a better candidate that the party felt would do a better job of securing the seat from incumbent Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, he will support its decision.