The nonpartisan, 12-way race is unpredictable; conservative Mary Norwood is widely expected to make a December runoff, but who will face her is up in the air. The Bernie Sanders-backed progressive candidate and former state Sen. Vincent Fort is vying to be Norwood’s challenger alongside a number of city council alumni who are more allied with Reed’s pro-business politics.
One of those candidates, Keisha Lance-Bottoms, has been endorsed by Reed and benefited in the home stretch from a gusher of corporate fundraising — much of it flowing in a way that allows it to get around the ordinary limits of giving.
Procurement corruption has cast a long shadow over the mayoral race. In September, the FBI raided the offices of a city vendor and the city’s top purchasing office pled guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for millions of dollars of city contracts. Earlier this month, Lance-Bottoms returned more than $25,000 in contributions from one of the city contractors at the center of the investigation.
The legal contribution limit for an individual to a mayoral candidate in the general election is $2,600. But a number of major contractors that do business with Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport — the world’s busiest airport and an entity the city oversees — used shell companies and other means to boost their donations to Lance-Bottoms into the tens of thousands. The concession contracts, to operate fast food restaurants and other franchises, are a multibillion-dollar opportunity for vendors.
Individuals associated with Miami-based Master ConcessionAir (previously known as World Wide Concessions) have given $23,525 to Lance-Bottoms’s campaign. Much of this giving was done through other entities. For instance, on Lance-Bottoms’s finance disclosures, you’ll see a $2,500 donation from the Florida-based Concessions Development Group. Lest you think this entity is unrelated to ConcessionAir, you can see that one of the people it’s registered under is Jose Alberni. Alberni lists himself as a managing director at ConcessionsAir.
Individuals involved with the company in the past previously came under investigation for “allegedly receiving $1.7 million from a Miami airport vendor to meet federal minority-business requirements while not actually opening a restaurant,” as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, although no charges were ever filed in the case.
World Wide Concessions Chief Executive Peter Amaro Jr. originally appeared to give twice to Lance-Bottoms by changing his first name from Peter to Pedro for the second contribution, as well as adding a digit to his address. Remember that the legal contribution limit for the general election is $2,600, and Amaro gave $5,100. The donations were first flagged on Twitter by Nathaniel Horadam, a master’s student at Georgia Tech. In the amended finance report released Thursday, the second donation is amended to Patricia, his wife. Amaro’s company manages over two dozen franchises at the Atlanta airport, including a Starbucks and Chick-fil-A.
In Thursday’s disclosure, Carlos Aguilera, the company’s director of food and beverage operations, pitched in an additional $2,500 — but left out his employer information.
Master Concession Air/World Wide Concessions did not respond to a request for comment.
Another airport vendor, OTG Management, surpassed the $2,600 limit by giving directly as OTG Management and also as OTG Management EWR, which shares the exact same address. OTG Management has not at this time responded to a request for comment.
Darrell Anderson is a limousine company owner and long-time family friend of Reed who won a shuttle contract at the airport that lasted four years (he was also an investor in the company Reed’s father ran). Anderson himself has given $1,000 to Lance-Bottoms. But his company A-National Limousine Service has given $2,500 collectively between two donations this year. Through a network of other shell companies that Anderson owns or share the same address as A-National Limousine Service, he collectively gave almost $27,000. That’s 10 times the legal limit of what an individual can give.
In the most recent disclosure, released Thursday, Lance-Bottoms returned $5,600 of those contributions, $1,000 from Atlanta Airport Shuttle, $2,000 from Atlanta Metropolitan Auto, $2,600 from New Day Productions.
Lance-Bottoms is publicly thanking some of these donors. On Thursday, she took to Twitter to cite the support of Giovanni di Palma, the owner of Antico Foods — which has a presence at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Antico gave $2,600 to Lance-Bottoms’s campaign in September; di Palma himself gave $2,600 the same month. Lioni Latticini Mozzarella & Specialty Foods, which has, in the past, served as their cheese supplier, pitched in $2,600 as well.
In 2015, the Labor Department ordered Antico to pay nearly $300,000 in back wages after it withheld overtime from dozens of employees.
The Thursday disclosures also show a $2,500 donation from Florida-based Advanced Consulting Service. This firm is registered to Christopher Korge, who founded NewsLink, a firm that is bidding on contracts to open a new shop at the airport. Korge previously gave $2,000 in January. A phone call to Korge & Korge LLP confirmed that Christopher also owns SFB Consulting, which gave $2,500 in the latest disclosure.
The campaign finance report from early October also reveals donations from other city contractors and, interestingly, from a number of individuals living in New Orleans. One donor to Lance-Bottoms, Blair Boutte of B3 Consulting, owns a bail bond company in Louisiana cited in a recent report over abusive bail bond practices. Blair’s Bail Bonds of New Orleans is facing a lawsuit for allegedly kidnapping and extorting a man for money he claims he didn’t know that he owed.
Horadam posited that the flow of Louisiana cash to Lance-Bottoms may relate to scheme to trade donors with Desiree Charbonnet, the business-friendly mayoral candidate running in New Orleans. Charbonnet’s campaign has received an influx of donations from Atlanta contractors, including firms and individuals who have donated to Lance-Bottoms, suggesting donors backing each candidate have found a way to elect two establishment-backed politicians while essentially doubling the amount they can legally donate.