State opens investigation into former Atlanta mayoral candidate following CBS46 investigation

Kirsten Dunn’s criminal history includes charges of fraud, theft, and tampering with government records, as recent as 2015.
Updated: Nov. 9, 2021 at 1:49 PM EST
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ATLANTA (CBS46) — The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office has opened an investigation into a former Atlanta mayoral candidate after a CBS46 investigation uncovered a slew of allegations against her, including running for office with a felony conviction, allegedly stiffing campaign staff out of thousands of dollars, and violating campaign finance laws.

CBS46 investigates tracked Kirsten Elise Dunn from Texas to Atlanta, where she left a trail of more than a dozen criminal charges, two bankrupt companies, and employees owed money.

Dunn officially entered the Atlanta Mayor’s race in August 2021. When we looked onto the campaign finance portal for the Atlanta Municipal Clerk’s Office, the only public documents Dunn had filed until Monday, Nov. 8, was a Declaration of Intention to Accept Campaign Contributions.

Dunn did submit a campaign finance report for September on Monday, six days after the General Election concluded and two months after it was first due. She has yet to submit her October report.

Other candidates in the race filed regular quarterly finance reports throughout the campaign process.

Running for office as a convicted felon

Dunn was up front about having a troubled past and she admits to spending time in prison in her early 20s. She failed to mention the rest of her criminal history, which includes charges of fraud, theft, and tampering with government records, as recent as 2015.

The Dallas County, Texas Sheriff’s Office confirmed to CBS46 Investigates that Dunn is a five-time convicted felon.

Georgia law bars anyone convicted of a felony from holding office unless he or she receives a pardon.

Kirsten Elise Dunn Criminal Record
Kirsten Elise Dunn Criminal Record(CBS46)

“Has that happened? Have you received a pardon?” CBS46 Investigator Rachel Polansky asked Kirsten Dunn.

“I have for my felony charge,” Dunn said, whose answer kept changing throughout our interview. “Well, it was not a pardon. It was, I lost the word that quick, basically where it was just forgiven.”

“Who signed off on that?” Polansky asked.

“It was a judge in Texas. I don’t remember the judge’s exact name,” Dunn responded.

But that’s not how it works. Dunn would’ve had to go before the Texas or Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Neither had any record of that.

“If she received any type of restoration, we would have record of it,” said Linda Winston, with the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.

“You’re not allowed to run for office because you can’t hold the office,” said Manny Arora, a criminal defense attorney and adjunct professor at Georgia State University.

CBS46 took our findings to Georgia’s Secretary of State, to find out how Dunn qualified to run in Atlanta’s Mayoral race. They responded by opening an official investigation.

Kirsten Dunn sat down with investigative reporter Rachel Polansky.
Kirsten Dunn sat down with investigative reporter Rachel Polansky.(CBS46)

Campaign Finance Laws Violated

Attorney Arora also questions Dunn’s fundraising after CBS46 showed him that the ‘Donate’ button on her website took users to an app for small businesses, where it shows the funds going into her personal company, ‘Business 4 Social Change.’

“I’ve never seen any politicians actually taking money and putting it into their own personal account before,” Arora said. “How are you spending it? What are you doing with it? That needs to be looked into.

In this situation, you’ve got somebody with felonies on the record, you got somebody that hasn’t disclosed financial reporting like you’re supposed to do, it seems like there could be a lot of problems coming down the road.”

Meanwhile, Dunn has only just filed her September campaign finance report with the Atlanta Municipal Clerk, so we don’t know how much money she raised in total or what she’s done with the money.

“At a minimum, you have to report everything you’re getting,” Arora said. “Otherwise you’re gonna have a lot of hot water to deal with. You can be prosecuted.”

“Why haven’t you submitted your campaign finance reports yet?” Polansky asked Dunn. “They were due over a month ago.”

“I wasn’t familiar with submitting them. I was unfamiliar with it so when I hired someone to do it and then terminated that agreement, I didn’t replace the person. I chose to maintain it myself, which probably wasn’t the best decision,” Dunn said.

According to the Georgia Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission, “if a candidate is delinquent with their Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report, they will receive a late fee of $125.00,” and can increase over $1,000 after 45 days.

The commission would not comment on any possible violations or investigations against Ms. Dunn.

Ex-Employees Speak Out

Kirsten Elise Dunn “refuses to allow life experiences to define her.” That’s what it says right on the homepage of her well-designed campaign website—a website that Cassandra Campbell says she helped create.

“Her logo, her design—each color had a significance,” said Campbell, who was hired as a strategist on Dunn’s campaign.

Campbell flew into Atlanta from California to work on the campaign. She’s one of at least five former campaign staffers who tell CBS46 Investigates they’ve not been paid.

“She owes me $8,200,” Campbell said. “We were all victimized.”

“I worked for her for four months,” said Erica Lane, who says she was hired to do sponsorship and fundraising on the campaign. “I’ve not been paid a dollar. You’re raising money but where is the money going?”

Lane said Dunn reeled her in with her “gift of gab.”

“She’s a foster child. I’m a foster child, as well. She used that connection with me through conversations to get me to be on her side—to help her and to go along with the things that she was doing,” Lane said.

“I 100 percent fell for it,” said Mollie Mayfield, another one of Dunn’s ex-employees.

Mayfield worked for Dunn at her now-bankrupt marketing agency in Texas called 33 Series Marketing. She took photos and videos for Dunn, and she too says she was never paid for her services. She filed this wage claim with the Texas Workforce Commission.

The Texas Workforce Commission tells CBS46 Investigates that three former employees filed wage claims against Dunn.

“She’s just hopping from Texas to Atlanta and who knows where she’ll go next. She needs to be stopped,” Mayfield said.

“I hired the wrong people, that’s what it came down too,” Dunn said, after Polansky brought up the allegations from former employees.

“It’s not just one person though. There’s multiple people from your campaign and there are multiple people from Texas. So, it does look to be a pattern,” Polansky said to Dunn.

“Absolutely. I can see how it looks to be a pattern. It’s not one. It’s one that’s being fabricated,” said Dunn.

Impact on Voters

Out of the 96,158 votes cast in the Atlanta Mayoral Election, Dunn received only 267 votes, good for 9th place in the 14 candidate race. But one question remains. How did she get on the ballot as a viable candidate in the first place?

That’s part of the Georgia Secretary of State’s investigation and a question we’ve asked directly to the Atlanta Municipal Clerk’s Office. Municipal Clerk and Elections Superintendent, Foris Webb III, said “Dunn met the statutory requirement by filling out the qualifying affidavit.” He went on to say that before candidates sign the “Notice of Candidacy and Affidavit,” there is a paragraph they must read about knowingly making false statements – adding that candidates can be criminally charged for misrepresenting themselves.

We will continue following this investigation for the 267 voters who cast their ballot for her in a race where the difference between making the run-off and not was only 612 votes.