Campaign billboard ads okay if handled right

Marty Kotis III, via
A few people are raising questions about Marty Kotis’ donations to Greensboro City Council candidates, but according to Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt, the in-kind contributions don’t run afoul of the law. Kotis, who owns several billboards in town, donated ad space to four candidates.

Elections law dictates that companies aren’t allowed to donate directly to political campaigns, but Collicutt said that as long as Kotis paid for the ads himself (essentially reimbursing his company for the actual rate of the advertisements). 

District 5 Councilman Tony Wilkins reported an in-kind contribution of $400 for the ads, and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson amended her report to include the contribution because her campaign didn’t know the amount until after the filing period. Collicutt said Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan and another candidate (whose name escaped him) would also be working to amend their finance reports to reflect the in-kind billboard donation from Kotis.

“As far as the billboard that you’re referencing, the process that we’re working with the candidates that have been advertised on the billboard, we have to make sure it was an in kind contribution to the campaign for the actual cost of the billboard,” Collicutt said.

Elections law states that media outlets can’t provide free or in-kind advertising to political candidates, but as long as the donation is from Kotis and not his company, the contributions are fine, Collicutt said.

Vaughan already filed an amended report that does not list the contribution. Johnson’s amended report listed “Outdoor Signage/Mr. Kotis” while Wilkins’ first report listed Kotis and not the company. Collicutt couldn't immediately recall the name of the fourth candidate who received advertising.

Johnson's amended report lists "Outdoor Signage" along with Kotis

Collicutt said candidates are cooperating and shouldn’t necessarily be faulted because the specifics can be confusing, adding that if the county board or an individual feels election law has been broken, the violation can be reported to the state board of elections. The county board does not have any enforcement capabilities.

UPDATE: Nancy Vaughan called to say she didn't realize that she needed to change anything until after reading this post. She called the county elections board twice, and staff checked with the state board, about how she should file the information about the billboard donations that she wouldn't have until after the initial report, she said. Vaughan was repeatedly told to simply include it on her next campaign finance report, she said, and that she filed an amended report because she forgot to list the candidate filing fee. 

"I tried to cover my bases," Vaughan said, adding that if she needs to amend her report again, she'll try to do so quickly. 

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