ATLANTA -- In the battle for Georgia's 6th Congressional district, only two remain: Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff. As the June 20th runoff approaches, political ads will dominate the airwaves. Now, the Democratic Congressional Campaign is spending $450,000 pushing an ad slamming Handel. 11Alive is working to verify those claims.
CLAIM 1: "Handel used our tax dollars to pay for her luxury vehicle."
Handel did use tax dollars to pay for her vehicle while Secretary of State. It was a $587 per month allowance given to certain government employees under state law. Between a choice of the cash or a state car, Handel took the cash until the state stopped the practice.
A spokesperson with Handel's campaign told 11Alive's Joe Henke she owned the car before she won statewide office. She used the allowance to pay off the vehicle, but did not accept that payment for her full time in office. The campaign also points out, she could have submitted for mileage and been reimbursed, but did not.
VERIFY: True, but needs context
CLAIM 2: "Jetted around on our dime"
In 3.5 years, Handel spend $13,500 on travel as Georgia's Secretary of State. That's an average of $5,400 per year. That's in line with what Brian Kemp has spent in his 7-year tenure in the position. It also lines up with other predecessors.
VERIFY: False. Comparatively, Handel's spending was in line with her position.
CLAIM 3: "With Handel at the wheel, her office budget went up 42 percent."
Figures from the claim stem from the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget's annual Budget in Brief, which breaks down the current fiscal year and previous amended year's budget. 11Alive went through figures for 2006, the year she entered office, and compared those to 2007, 2008, and 2009.
2006: $4,798,952 was the Governor's recommendations for 2006
2007: $4,912,454 (amended budget)
2008: $6,131,496 (amended budget)
2009: $6,909,745 (amended budget)
The budget for Georgia's Secretary of State's Office went up each year Handel was at the helm. It topped out at just under $7 million. That's an increase, as the ad claims, of 42 percent.
UPDATE: After our original story was published on April 24, Handel’s campaign challenged the results of our VERIFY citing a May 17 Politifact article that found differing results for the Secretary of State budget under Karen Handel.
We took that article, our story and the full budget to Thomas Lauth, the Dean Emeritus of the School of Public and International Affairs and Professor Emeritus of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia.
We also had 11Alive's Director of Finance, Lillian Ryan, review all the documents. Here is her analysis:
There are many ways to look at the budget numbers during Handel’s term. The numbers above are for the “administrative” portion of the budget only. The total annual budget for the Secretary of State agency is shown below:
2008 $40,090,587 Year to year increase +7.6%
2009 $34,668,433 Year to year decrease -14%
2010 $30,700,253 Year to year decrease -11%
Since Karen Handel started her term in January, 17, the budget for 2008 would have been the first budget she was wholly responsible for. This shows that the 2008 budget increased 7.6%.
It should be noted that the Great Recession occurred during Handel’s term. During the period 2009 through 2010, all state agencies, including the Secretary of State, had budget cuts mandated by the Governor.
CLAIM 4: "She even suggested spending $15,000 on chairs."
An email published by the DCCC shows Handel, as the Governor's Deputy Chief of Staff, describing a budget surplus and writing, "I'd say we'd be looking at about $15,000 to $18,000 to get just about everyone new chairs. Maybe less since I might be able to strike a volume deal."
The DCCC ad doesn't include the reason why, which Handel also spelled out in the email, "The ones [chairs] we have are universally horrible and we're getting a lot of feedback from people about sore backs, etc."
The email doesn't say how many chairs would be purchased, but the term "volume deal" implies a large purchase. It doesn't specify the cost per chair, but it does show the claim is true.
VERIFY: True, but needs context.
Spokesperson for Handel Campaign
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
Governor's Office of Planning and Budget
WATCH | This is the ad in question.
READ | Email published by the DCCC
DATA | Department of Audits and Accounts 2009 (Handel's last year in office)
DATA | Department of Audits and Accounts 2016 (Compare to Brian Kemp's year in office)