Mobile County Sheriff candidate Charlie Wyckoff (right) said Sheriff Sam Cochran’s complaints against his campaign have been resolved.

Photo | Lagniappe/Facebook

candidate challenging Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran is downplaying a recent election complaint filed by Cochran last month as a political move and attempted character assassination.

As previously reported, Charlie Wyckoff was the subject of a complaint to the Mobile County Probate Court filed in February signed personally by Cochran. The complaint, which Cochran said he filed in the name of election integrity, alleges Wyckoff failed to take several legally required steps before he began his campaign for sheriff.

Last June was the “official” launch of Wyckoff’s campaign, but he’s been putting his name out there since at least 2015, when he started distributing signs and bumper stickers proclaiming “a new sheriff in town.” He’s also maintained a campaign website for nearly three years.

Cochran cited those and other examples as potential violations of state laws prohibiting the “solicitation and receipt of campaign donations” more than one year before an election. However, that law does not place a restriction on campaigning in general and doesn’t apply to loans a candidate makes to his or her own campaign committee.

Wyckoff said the stickers, signs, antique cars and parade fees “all came from my pocket.” What’s more, he claims his campaign has been investigated and cleared of similar allegations and said Cochran’s attempt to rehash them “looks awful political” in his view.

“The law says you can campaign all you want to with your own money, but once you start fundraising it becomes a new issue,” he said. “There are some other things that trigger that your campaign is in motion, and we didn’t hit any of those markers until June 2017.”

One of Wyckoff’s campaign websites, which appears to have been created in June 2015, does include a section for campaign donations but it also states that “The FUND RAISING begins for our campaign on June 6, 2017” — a year to the day before the 2018 primary elections.

However, Cochran’s complaint also alleges Wyckoff failed to designate a principal campaign committee, establish a segregated financial account for his campaign or file a Statement of Economic Interest with the Alabama Ethics Commission before he officially entered the race as well.

The Fair Campaign Finances Act requires those seeking office to designate a principal campaign committee within five days of becoming a candidate. Under the law, a person becomes a candidate when they qualify with a political party or receive or spend more than $1,000.

It’s unclear whether that threshold for candidacy applies to personal expenditures. Wyckoff appears to have made several expenditures from late 2015 through April 11, 2017, when the paperwork for his campaign committee was filed in probate court.

Cochran’s complaint also says Wyckoff should have filed a Statement of Economic Interest with the Ethics Commission before he began spending money on his campaign, but guidance Secretary of State John Merrill’s office distributes to candidates suggests otherwise.

According to the 2017 Candidate Filing Guide, a SOEI must be filed on the date a candidate’s qualifying papers are filed. Based on available records, Wyckoff’s dates don’t appear to match, as his SOEI was actually filed on April 7, 2017 — a few days before his committee was formed.

In Cochran’s complaint, he claims that any failure to submit an SOEI in accordance with the law should prevent Wyckoff’s name from appearing on the ballot, but according to Elections Coordinator Kim Tillman, he’s already a qualified candidate in the eyes of the probate court.

What’s more, Wyckoff claims his campaign has already been subject to legal reviews by the Ethics Commission and the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office and allowed to proceed.

Lagniappe was able to confirm through Ethics Director Tom Albritton that a complaint was filed against Wyckoff related to his campaign but the details of those allegations are unknown. It was dismissed last August after an investigation found “no probable cause” of Wyckoff or his campaign violating any of Alabama’s ethics laws.

The DA’s office does not comment on, confirm nor deny the existence of criminal investigations, so there’s no way to verify Wyckoff’s claims that he was cleared after a probe by Chief Investigator Mike Morgan last summer.

It’s unclear who filed the ethics complaint against Wyckoff and his campaign, but the allegations are the same as those listed in Cochran’s Feb. 15 letter to Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis.

“I don’t have a clue who filed those first complaints, but this last one had [Cochran’s] signature on it,” Wyckoff said. “Now I can put a name and face on who has filed a false accusation against me. I had several people say, ‘you’re a victim of character assassination.’”

Wyckoff said he’s made every effort to run his campaign “by the book,” though he did concede that Alabama’s election laws can be confusing to navigate for a political newcomer.

Documents related to this report can be viewed below: