By Rebecca Gaunt
Incumbent David Chastain nearly caught up to challenger Catherine Pozniak in funds raised for the tense Cobb Post 4 school board race with a donor list of familiar names from the Georgia GOP.
Chastain’s latest campaign contribution disclosure indicated he has raised a total of $44,812, with $41,529 cash on hand. Nearly $37,000 of that was raised since the last reporting date. Pozniak reported $45,109, with $31,232 cash on hand.
Chastain received sizable donations from the campaign for state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart (R-west Cobb) ($5,500), Taylor English Duma attorney Jonathan Crumly ($4,000), and attorney Joy Doss for $1,500.
Since the cap for individual donations is $3,000, the Courier reached out to Chastain for clarification on the two that exceed the maximum. He explained that the donations are for both the primary and general, and the campaign is already fixing the error.
“We realized our mistake over the weekend and already entered an amendment,” he wrote in an email.
Another $1,000 came from Balli-Law, LLC. According to online records, Balli-Law is registered to James Balli, also an attorney for Taylor English.
The firm’s name may sound familiar to those who follow board proceedings. In 2021, the Cobb school board hired the firm Taylor English Duma to draw the boundaries for redistricting. The Democrats on the board objected to using the firm without going through a bidding process and because the CEO of Taylor English Decisions, with which Duma is affiliated, is former Republican state representative Earl Ehrhart.
The vote split along party lines to approve the contract. State Rep. Ginny Ehrhart, Earl Ehrhart’s wife, filed the legislation to approve the new map.
Other significant contributions included $3,000 from Mathis Benton, an attorney for Freeman Mathis & Gary, $2,995 from former Cobb school board candidate Amy Henry, and $2,000 from Caryn Sonderman.
Several current and former elected or appointed officials made contributions to Chastain: Republican state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick for $250, Post 7 board member Brad Wheeler for $200, Cobb Solicitor General Barry Morgan for $200, former Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler for $200, and former Cobb planning commissioner Tony Waybright for $250.
Lesley Litt, chair of the CCSD Facilities & Technology Citizens Oversight Committee, donated $500. So did Liberty Strategies, Inc, a firm founded by former congressman Bob Barr.
Pozniak addresses out-of-state donation accusations
Pozniak submitted her paperwork Friday to meet the deadline but it had not yet been posted over the weekend. She shared a copy directly with the Courier. Pozniak has raised $22,192 since the last reporting period.
Her sister, Eileen Pozniak, donated $3,000 and Luisa Wakeman, the sixth district Democratic Georgia state senate candidate donated $1,800. The Cobb County Association of Educators contributed $1,000.
Chastain’s supporters have frequently criticized Pozniak for receiving contributions from out of state, while his campaign focuses on painting her as a newcomer to Cobb.
Though she attended elementary, middle and high school in CCSD, graduating from Sprayberry High School in 1997, she went abroad to Australia and England to continue her education. Her doctorate is from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her education career spanned the country, from the Lakota Sioux Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota to the Louisiana Department of Education, before she returned to Cobb in 2020.
Asked to address the commentary about her donation list by the Courier, she said some of those donations are friends and associates in her field who “understand the importance of education.”
Her previous disclosure included a $3,000 contribution from Democrats for Education Equity in Washington D.C.
Other contributions in the previous reporting period included $200 from Laura Vinsant, an executive director for Teach for America in Louisiana. Pozniak worked for Teach for America and is the former Louisiana assistant state superintendent for fiscal operations. Another donation from a family member came from Arizona.
Campaign law does not require the names be disclosed for donors under $100. For the current reporting period, Pozniak reported $4,975 in donations below that threshold.
Pozniak said she committed from the start not to share the names of those donors because there are Cobb County School District staff who fear reprisal.
“With a couple exceptions of personal friends, this money was raised locally,” she said. “And by local, I mean Cobb County.”
Pozniak went into more detail on her fundraising efforts with the Courier, while keeping those names confidential. Many contributors utilized the option to leave a note with their online contribution that described their specific connection to the district, whether as a parent, staff member, or staff member’s spouse.
Another 75 donors have made in-kind donations in the form of hosting meet and greets and buying postage stamps. All of those are local, she said.
Pozniak has attended at least ten meet and greets so far, hosted by Cobb parents, to share her campaign’s focus and answer questions, despite leaving the trail for six weeks of active duty in the United States Army Reserve where she advises on educational matters.
Pozniak said she leaves it up to the host whether or not there is a formal ask for donations. With Chastain not accepting invitations from schools or organizations to join her in a forum, the meet and greets are the best way to get her message out.
“In absence of PTAs being able to present that information, we’re shifting to neighborhoods,” she said.
Many of her larger contributions did come from other states.
“I work in education. My network is education specific,” she said.
Reaching out to those networks has expanded her base for donations.
Her latest filing includes donations from Jennifer Eplett Reilly, co-founder of New Schools for Baton Rouge ($1,000), Emma Bloomberg, CEO of Murmuration, a New York education non profit ($600), Lisa Burman, a California film producer ($500), Saxena Suchi, a New Jersey bank VP ($450), Sarah McLean, of SVP Lee in Baltimore ($1,050), Christine Ortiz, owner of Florida-based Equity Meets Design ($500), and Susan Pryor, a Marietta mortgage broker ($500).
Of the more than 40 donations reported this period in amounts high enough to warrant detailed disclosure, more than two-thirds of the donors were from Georgia.
How the money was spent
Pozniak’s biggest expenditures were for signs, field support and printed campaign materials. Chastain’s only listed expenditure for this period was to Anedot Inc. for payment processing in the amount of $115.20.