Ethics expert: Atlanta mayor’s press release didn’t cross the line

1:31 p.m Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 Local

Mayor Kasim Reed’s office on the eve of Atlanta’s mayoral election issued a press release attacking candidate Peter Aman, the city’s former chief operating officer. 

Then, this morning, Reed posted a picture of a graphic depicting city councilwomen Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood at the top of the polls. 

“ATLANTA DON’T WASTE YOUR VOTE,” it says. “THIS HAS NOW BECOME A TWO PERSON RACE.” 

Rick Thompson, the former head of the Georgia State Ethics Commission, said neither message appeared to violate prohibitions on using public agencies for campaign purposes. 

Reed still has a right to free speech under the First Amendment. But one communique’s – the press release – was more problematic than the other. 

While the Facebook post appeared on Reed’s personal account, the press release was sent via a city email address and was written by a city staffer. 

The press release came in response to Aman’s comments that appeared in a front-page article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday criticizing the source of campaign funds for mayoral candidate and City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms talks with current Mayor Kasim Reed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation and Aquatic Center in Atlanta on Oct. 30, 2017. (Kevin D. Liles/The New York Times)

In the AJC story about out of state campaign contributions, Aman said anybody on the city council who was running for mayor “had green blood on their hands” and that Reed had privately urged city airport contractors to donate to Bottoms campaign.

Bottoms has been endorsed by the mayor, but she also has the most out-of-state contributions from entities who have or are seeking city contracts. 

The press release from the mayor’s office on Monday accused Aman of lying and claimed that Aman took the job at city hall during Reed’s administration so that he could eventually run for mayor. Thompson said the release didn’t cross any legal lines, but got close. 

“They crafted this message very well,” he said. 

The press release doesn’t tell voters to go the polls. It merely reminds them who the mayor has endorsed. 

“Given the cloud of corruption that covers City Hall right now, I️ am surprised the mayor would come perilously close to misusing public resources to issue an obviously false statement,” said Aman in a written statement. 

“We need experienced, ethical leadership to advance Atlanta and prepare to build the city of the future. I am proud of the race we have run and I️ am grateful for the outpouring of support our campaign has received from all over the city. “ 

Reed’s administration is ending under the cloud of a federal bribery investigation.

Even if Reed had used city resources to endorse Bottoms, that action may not meet a legal definition of campaigning, Thompson said. 

That’s because it’s debatable whether the endorsement helps. 

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