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Judge candidate questions PAC funds

Clif Hastings is still questioning why a gaming PAC would send a sizeable unsolicited donation to a judicial candidate, and he said Friday his answers lead him back to concerns about “dirty politics.”

Hastings, candidate in the June 1 Republican primary for the Place 2 Circuit Judge, received last week and immediately returned what he called an unsolicited $5,000 check from 21st CEN PAC, a group funded by gaming interests and other political action committees. He said he returned the money because he does not believe a judicial candidate can ethically receive funding from anyone involved in an ongoing legal issue, referencing the statewide debate over the legality of electronic bingo.

“This is turning dirty, and I hate dirty politics,” he said. “But I think the public deserves to know.”

Last month, Hastings’ opponent, Shannon Clark, reported a $250 donation from Montgomery’s CGR PAC, which is funded by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and racing parks in Macon and Jefferson counties. Clark said on Monday she received the check shortly after its Jan. 5 issue date. She said she returned those funds at the end of April, saying last week she did so after a supporter called and said, “‘You might want to check about this group.’ I did, and I sent (the donation) back. End of story.”

Hastings said he knew last month about the donation to Clark’s campaign, before the check was sent to his campaign. “I had made a clear determination not to go public with her receiving gambling funds,” he said. “I only decided to go public after she publicly proclaimed Thursday (at a political forum in Enterprise) that she’d returned the money,” Hastings said on Friday.

At that point, Hastings said he felt he had to answer publicly and bring to light the questionable donation he had received on Wednesday. “She opened the door … I felt like I had no choice but to discuss it,” he said. “I felt like now I had to be defensive about receiving these funds,” which he described repeatedly as “unsolicited.” Hastings sent out a press release Monday in response regarding the issue, adding in that statement that he “had not and will not solicit nor accept money from any entity associated with gaming or gambling.”

Hastings said he questions the circumstances surrounding the donation sent to his campaign. The $5,000 check was dated April 27 – after the donation had been made to his opponent and after, he says, he had discovered that donation, but the envelope was postmarked May 3. Also, he said the envelope, while addressed to his campaign post office box, was actually delivered to his wife, Gina, at her workplace: Charles Henderson Middle School. “That just doesn’t make any sense. She’s never received any mail there,” he said.

Hastings said he returned the check immediately that day, without depositing it into his campaign account. And he chastised his opponent for not doing the same with the $250 check she received.

“She ethically had a duty to determine where that money came from before depositing it into her account,” he said. “If you’re exercising poor judgment in receiving campaign contributions, what kind of judgment are you going to exercise on the bench?”

Clark said Monday she is also unsure why she received a campaign donation from the gaming PAC.

“I have no idea, other than PACs send out money to campaigns,” she said. “I didn’t know of anybody that recommended me, and I didn’t ask for (it).”

Clark said she had nothing more to say on the issue.

“I’ve said all I know to say. A supporter called me about it. I returned it.”