SMYRNA — Before his gun raffle promotion made national headlines and state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) called for its end, Adventure Outdoors owner Jay Wallace quietly contacted the Georgia Secretary of State’s office to ensure it was legal. A Friday letter from Chris Harvey, chief investigator for the Georgia Secretary of State, to Wallace clears the promotional campaign, in which someone can enter a Nov. 12 drawing for a Browning rifle and a Glock handgun.
“In our conversation on this matter this morning, you clarified that it was not your intention to restrict the opportunity to enter the drawing only to people who voted, and that anyone who requested to enter the drawing for the free firearm would be allowed to enter, regardless of whether they voted,” Harvey wrote in his Friday letter.
The question arose because the eight billboards promoting the campaign feature a picture of the “I’m a Georgia voter” sticker handed out at polls and read “Vote. Win a rifle.” Underneath those words, the sentence “Bring your Georgia voter sticker in for a chance to win a Browning rifle” appears in smaller type.
However, a sign displayed in the store informs customers that “all Georgia residents are eligible that can legally purchase and possess a firearm.
No purchase or specific action is required to participate.”
In a letter dated Monday, Fort wrote to Secretary of State Brian Kemp to complain about Wallace’s promotion.
“In accordance with the law, and to make sure our voting process is maintained with the highest integrity, I urge you to order Adventure Outdoors to cease and desist all attempts to have a giveaway in exchange for voting,” Fort wrote.
Fort told the Journal that after seeing a media report on the promotion, he recalled four years ago when Starbucks and Krispy Kreme offered free products to customers for voting. Then-Secretary of State Karen Handel ordered them to refrain from such action.
“What the stores essentially did is expand their offer to all customers, and they made it kind of an Election Day special, and that’s legal, so when I saw this promotion it was obviously out of order — illegal, as a matter of fact — doing what they did is punishable as a felony, that’s why I wrote my letter to Brian Kemp,” Fort said.
But Wallace, who has raffled off firearms in previous presidential elections, is allowing everyone to participate in the giveaway, whether they voted or not.
Wallace said the promotion is intended to get people to think about the election.
“It’s not only to encourage people to vote, it’s encouraging people to get involved in the process,” he said. “What we want to do is we want people to talk with one another and pay attention to what our politicians are doing.”
Wallace responded to a comment Fort made to the AJC, in which Fort said the promotion violates state law prohibiting anyone from offering money or gifts in exchange for voting or registering to vote. “Well, we’re not exchanging any gifts or telling anyone how to vote or to vote, so I think the good senator is confused,” Wallace said.
In a Tuesday letter, Kemp told Fort that “our investigation team met with the manager of the store … and he told our office that no proof of voting was necessary to enter the raffle.”
In other words, as long as Wallace keeps the raffle open to anyone, it does not constitute a violation, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office said.
Wallace said while he doesn’t know Fort, he has a few questions for him.
“If we had a raffle, would he want us to exclude voters?” Wallace asked. “What if we put up a billboard that said ‘we’ll take you to and from the voting polls for free,’ would he be OK with that?”
Fort said he would be.
“That’s legal,” Fort said. “What Mr. Wallace should do is just comply with the law. If the law is good for Krispy Kreme or Starbucks or whomever, the law is good enough for him.”
As for Wallace’s remarks about opening up the raffle to everyone, Fort said the billboards make no mention of that.
“He doesn’t say when he expanded it or give any supporting documentation about it being open to other people. I think he ought to change the billboards,” Fort said. “I may follow up with the letter with the Secretary of State asking him to request the billboard be changed, but we’ll see. I’m getting the impression that (Wallace) could care less or doesn’t really care if people vote or not. It’s a promotion. It’s advertising, and that’s what he’s concerned about.”
Wallace said he wants to thank Fort for complaining about him.
“I appreciate him bringing this to further light for people to see. He’s done a good job,” Wallace said.
This isn’t the first time Wallace has locked horns with elected officials.
In 2006, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sued Wallace, seven other gun shops in Georgia and several others around the country, alleging they had created a public nuisance with illegal sales of firearms that ended up on the streets of New York.
Wallace said the case was resolved in his favor last year when the court found that Adventure Outdoors is not subject to personal jurisdiction in New York based on the New York long-arm statute and constitutional due process principles.
“We took it to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and they agreed with us,” Wallace said.
Wallace, who plans to vote for Mitt Romney for president, said the attention comes from being successful. “I’m probably an easy target, I suppose. We advertise and we work hard and we try to be a shining example in our industry, and so the people that don’t like what we do try to knock the guys that are off the top.”