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By Jim Tharpe December 15, 2010

Party switchers anger leaders but don't have to refund contributions

The 2010 election didn’t put an end to the growth of the Georgia Republican Party, which now dominates state government.

After the ballots were counted, six members of the state House of Representatives and one state senator who raised money, ran for office and were elected as Democrats jumped to the GOP.

"Foul!" cried Democrats. And when state Rep. Doug McKillip of District 115 in Athens bolted for the Republicans earlier this month, party officials ramped up the rhetoric. McKillip switched parties after he was elected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Party officials were outwardly angry with McKillip, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.

Democrats openly called McKillip a "turncoat" and ended one press release about the defection with the formal definition of a "Traitor: One who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty."

"His donors deserve a refund; his voters deserve a recall," state Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kidd pronounced in the Dec. 7 press release, a day after McKillip's party change.

But do they? We at PolitiFact Georgia specifically wondered if there is anything that mandates a party-switcher to reimburse the folks who gave the candidate money. After all, most of those donors probably assumed McKillip would serve the party whose banner he carried during the election.

McKillip said he has no immediate plans to make refunds.

"No one has asked me to refund any money," he said in a telephone interview. "I would certainly discuss it with anyone who asked for a refund.

 "I’m getting five-to-one positive reaction."

Kidd was not among the positive.

"I used the word ‘deserve’ because I believe it," Kidd told PolitiFact Georgia. "I think it’s a dishonest act to run in one party and then switch after you win."

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But Kidd admitted she knew of nothing that would mandate a refund to donors.

Michael Jablonski, general counsel for the state Democratic Party, said he was unaware of anyone who has refunded donor money after a party switch.

"He has a moral obligation to return money to donors who thought he was a Democrat," Jablonski said. "He should also resign so there can be a special election so people can determine if they want a Democrat or Republican in that office."

Jablonski pointed PolitiFact to the Democratic Party’s bylaws, which address any money given to a candidate by the party.

Section BL1.8.2 states: "The State Party shall seek reimbursement of any contribution, whether real or in-kind, made to a candidate who qualifies for office as a Democrat and, after qualification, switches to another party."

A review of McKillip’s campaign contribution reports on file with the State Ethics Commission, however, do not show any direct contributions by the state party to his campaign.

Kerwin Swint, political science professor at Kennesaw State University, said he was unaware of anything that would force a party-switcher to return campaign cash.

"There have been instances of officials returning money," he said, "but it’s totally voluntarily."

Democratic Party spokesman Eric Gray predicted McKillip’s donors will seek revenge during the next election cycle.

"There will be political repercussions for Doug as the people in his district vote him out in two years," Gray said. "It’s a liberal Democratic district."

Perhaps. But the state Legislature also will be redrawing its new political boundaries as part of the 10-year redistricting cycle before the next election. And McKillip’s newfound party will be in charge of that effort.

Democratic officials are entitled to the belief that party defectors should refund donors' campaign contributions.  But the idea that a party-switcher actually owes refunds to his donors has no grounding in party rules or in state law. We rule the claim False.

Our Sources

Democratic Party bylaws:

Democratic Party press release, Dec. 7, 2010

Interview with Eric Gray, Democratic Party spokesman, Dec. 10, 2010

Interview with state Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kidd, Dec. 13, 2010

Interview with Michael Jablonski, general counsel for the state Democratic Party, Dec. 13, 2010

Interview with Kerwin Swint, political science professor at Kennesaw State University, Dec. 14, 2010

Interview with Doug McKillip, District 115 House representative, Dec. 14, 2010

Review of State Ethics Commission contribution reports for Doug McKillip

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Party switchers anger leaders but don't have to refund contributions

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