‘This is a bad look’: No background check for Georgia political candidates

Kirsten Dunn’s criminal history includes charges of fraud, theft, and tampering with government records, as recent as 2015.
Updated: Dec. 21, 2021 at 2:03 PM EST
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ATLANTA (CBS46) — Only on CBS46, Georgia’s ethics commission has opened a campaign finance investigation into a former Atlanta mayoral candidate.

This comes after the Georgia Secretary of State’s office began investigating Kirsten Dunn’s felony convictions – following our CBS46 investigation that uncovered a number of allegations against her.

So, how did Dunn get on the ballot in the first place?

After reaching out to both the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and the Superintendent of Elections in Atlanta, CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky has learned that candidates do not have to undergo background checks.

They do have to fill out and sign a ‘Notice of Candidacy and Affidavit’. And, it’s likely that affidavit, signed by Dunn, will become the crux of the Secretary of State’s investigation.

No background checks

When we asked these offices why not, a spokesperson for the Georgia Secretary of State said “Georgia code 21-2-6 says the municipal election ‘superintendent shall determine if the candidate is qualified to seek and hold the public office for which such candidate is offering’.”

But Atlanta Superintendent of Elections, Foris Webb III, said, “I’m not authorized to run criminal background checks nor access or view GCIC or NCIC records.”

CBS46 Investigates brought these findings to Dr. Tammy Greer, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University.

“Does this surprise you, that background checks are not being conducted?” Polansky asked.

“Yes, very much,” Greer said.

Greer also offered a potential solution.

“Could it be possible for candidates, particularly on the municipal level, to provide their own background checks, when they are submitting their documents and their fees in order to be on the ballot? That could include an NCIC check. That could also include a GBI check,” Greer said. “Perhaps this is a way to satisfy both ends until a permanent solution can be had.”

There is one safeguard in place though. Candidates must fill out and sign a ‘Notice of Candidacy and Affidavit’.

In it, it states, “I have never been convicted and sentenced in any court of competent jurisdiction for fraudulent violation of primary or election laws, malfeasance in office, or felony involving moral turpitude or conviction of domestic violence under the laws of this State, any other State, or of the United States...” it goes on to say, “I understand that any false statement knowingly made by me in this Notice of Candidacy and Affidavit will subject me to criminal penalties as provided by law…”

Kirsten Dunn signed her ‘Notice of Candidacy and Affidavit’ on August 20, 2021.

This is the signed affidavit Dunn submitted to the state, to run for the Atlanta Mayoral race.
This is the signed affidavit Dunn submitted to the state, to run for the Atlanta Mayoral race.(CBS46)

As far as what happens next, Dr. Greer says this situation is much bigger than one candidate’s actions.

“It is critical that we get this process under control because how many other candidates may have violated this oath that we don’t know about?” Greer asked.

CBS46 Investigates asked Kirsten Dunn for a follow-up interview to talk about our new findings. She wouldn’t agree to an interview unless we sent her our questions ahead of time. That’s something CBS46 Investigates doesn’t do for any interviews.

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.

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.

Kirsten Elise Dunn
Kirsten Elise Dunn(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,” responded Dunn.

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.

Former Supporters Speak Out

“I feel tricked, bamboozled,” said Roosevelt Searles III, another Atlanta mayoral candidate. He dropped out of the race and endorsed Dunn a week before the election.

“This is a bad look. Not only on the black and brown community, but on the political community. It just reinforces everyone’s beliefs that politicians are crooks and liars,” Searles III said.

There’s also Janet Mayfield Scott, who invested $44,000 into one of Dunn’s business ventures and says she did not see a penny in return.

“It makes me sad because we all work for our money and she knew it was for ill intent,” said Mayfield Scott.

During the course of the investigation, CBS46 Investigates has spoken with multiple campaign staffers and ex-employees who say they worked for Dunn, and were never paid for their services.