A slow-burning campaign for sheriff in Mobile County took an interesting turn last week after incumbent Sam Cochran raised several complaints against his one and only political challenger.
Charlie Wyckoff, a self-described minister and businessman, has been putting his name into the political ring for more than two years. Since late 2015, signs and bumper stickers proclaiming “a new sheriff in town” have slowly appeared from the southwestern parts of the county into greater Mobile.
Cochran said he’s been aware of Wyckoff’s campaign for years because “hundreds of people have mentioned it” to him, but wasn’t sure whether the political newcomer was looking to challenge him directly this year. Many of the signs for Wyckoff haven’t listed a specific election year.
Records show Wyckoff officially declared a campaign committee and stated his intent to enter this year’s race for sheriff in April 2017, but an elections complaint filed personally by Cochran last month claims Wyckoff’s campaign activity prior to that likely violated state election laws.
Specifically, Cochran alleges Wyckoff failed to designate a principal campaign committee, establish a segregated financial account for his campaign bank account or file a Statement of Economic Interest with the Alabama Ethics Commission before he began soliciting and spending campaign funds.
The only campaign document filed by Wyckoff in Mobile County Probate Court appears to be that declaration of his principal campaign committee from April 2017. It lists Wyckoff’s contact information and his wife as that committee’s only member.
While Cochran’s complaint was initially sent to Probate Judge Don Davis, it has since been forwarded to Secretary of State John Merrill, where a communications staff member directed Lagniappe inquiries to the Alabama Ethics Commission.
That is likely because, according to at least one of Cochran’s allegations, Wyckoff’s campaign activity could be in violation of state ethics laws governing political campaigns. A copy of the complaint obtained by Lagniappe specifically cites Alabama Code 17-5-7.
“Alabama Code 17-5-7 prohibits the solicitation and receipt of campaign donations of either cash or in-kind services prior to one year from the stated election date,” Cochran’s complaint reads. “Given his open solicitation for donations on a campaign website, it is clear that Mr. Wyckoff has violated this statute, which under Alabama code 17-5-19(c) is a Class B Felony.”
It’s currently unclear whether Wyckoff has actually solicited any campaign contributions because he has yet to file any campaign finance reports. However, Wyckoff’s campaign website, which appears to have been created in June 2015, does include a section for campaign donations.
As Cochran’s complaint notes, Wyckoff has also had some visible campaign expenses over the past two years. He’s participated in Mardi Gras parades since at least 2017 — riding parade routes in various antique police cars adorned with “Wyckoff for Sheriff” signs and stickers.
He’s also created and distributed signs, bumper stickers and cups with campaign information as well as fake $5 bills that, when opened, direct the recipients to www.wyckoffsheriff.com.
It’s unclear how the creation of those campaign products was funded, but they would also most certainly have exceeded the $100 threshold that triggers the required reporting of campaign expenditures.
Asked about his decision to file the complaint against his only political challenger, Cochran said he believes Wyckoff “violated state elections law in four areas.” He also noted one of a sheriff’s duties in Alabama is to serve as an election official when his or her name isn’t on the ballot.
“I’m fine with anybody running for office or anybody running against me, but If you want to be sheriff or run for any office, you ought to follow the rules,” he said. “I had not made a complaint until now because I was waiting until he officially declared his candidacy.”
Cochran said he initially sent his complaint to Davis as well as the Mobile County Republican Party, but said it was referred to Merrill’s office. He also said Wyckoff has since been provided a copy, which he promptly posted parts of on social media in response to Cochran’s allegations.
Wyckoff has not returned calls seeking comment on his campaign and Cochran’s decision to file a complaint three months removed from the June 5 GOP primary. On social media, though, Wyckoff has dismissed the allegations as a political attack from an establishment politician.
“It appears that because my name is being placed on the ballot for sheriff the current sheriff uses the word ‘felony’ among other things in his letter with his signature to the probate judge asking or demanding that I be removed!” he wrote. “I have been investigated and cleared two other times by two other agencies for the same or similar accusations. Though I dislike the political environment I am finding more and more need to campaign against a hostile political environment and deny my own feelings or comfort for a while.”
In other posts he’s also suggested Cochran, who’s seeking a fourth term as sheriff, has “gotten lazy and quiet” while noting that “crime is not down, just as graduation rates are not up.”
Lagniappe was unable to reach representatives of the Mobile County Republican party, at least one of whom appears to have been sent an identical copy of Cochran’s complaint to Davis. State GOP Chairman Terry Lathan said her office was so far unaware of any such complaint.
“I have not seen any documents on what allegedly has or has not been filed so I cannot comment on that subject,” Lathan said, adding “all candidates, regardless of political affiliation, must follow the laws of our state.”