Local Gov't Employees Took Hundreds of Hours of Paid Time Off To Elect Warnock, Docs Show

High-paid Atlanta officials simultaneously collected taxpayer-funded salaries, consulting fees

Raphael Warnock
Raphael Warnock / Getty Images
October 19, 2021

A pair of highly paid Atlanta government employees took hundreds of hours of paid time off to consult for Sen. Raphael Warnock's (D., Ga.) political campaign, a double dip that saw them rake in nearly $100,000.

According to campaign finance records, Phillana Williams and Erica Pines received a combined $97,500 from Warnock during the Georgia Senate runoff elections. Williams and Pines held six-figure salary jobs with the city of Atlanta throughout the election period, during which the operatives took a combined 297 hours in paid vacation time, payroll records provided by the city of Atlanta show.

The move allowed Williams and Pines to minimize their public service responsibilities as they raked in lucrative payments from taxpayers and the Warnock campaign. A veteran Georgia political operative told the Washington Free Beacon that while congressional staffers often take time off "to lend a hand in the closing weeks of their boss's campaign," that time is unpaid.

"The employee of an unrelated and nonpartisan public office taking paid leave to make a buck on Warnock's campaign is a bad look for everyone involved," the operative said.

Williams, Pines, and Warnock did not return requests for comment.

Williams, who still serves as director of marketing and strategy in Atlanta's Office of Entertainment, took 24 vacation leave days from Nov. 23, 2020, to Jan. 6, 2021—a total of 192 hours, city records show. She went on to receive $62,500 from Warnock's campaign on Jan. 26 through her consulting company, the Phillana Factor. In addition to her work with Warnock, Williams took $65,000 in combined payments for consulting work on President Joe Biden and Sen. Jon Ossoff's (D., Ga.) campaigns.

From Oct. 24, 2020, to Jan. 15, 2021, meanwhile, Pines took 105 hours of "scheduled" paid time off from her role as Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) senior director. During that time, she received $35,000 from the Warnock campaign through Sweet Tea Consulting, an LLC that Pines did not establish with the state of Georgia until late June, according to business records.

The paid time off proved fruitful for Pines—she submitted her letter of resignation to MARTA's chief of staff in April, writing "it is time for me to leap full time into political consulting."

At the state government level, Georgia's State Personnel Board prohibits employees from "directing, managing, controlling, or participating in a political campaign for state office." As city officials working on federal campaigns, however, Williams and Pines are not bound by that law.

Williams and Pines were not the only local government employees Warnock hired as political consultants. The Democrat also paid more than $75,000 to DeKalb County director of external affairs Meredith Lilly through her LLC, Love Strategies. The payments came after Lilly requested an unpaid leave of absence for "personal reasons" from Nov. 23, 2020, to Jan. 5, 2021, county records obtained by the Free Beacon show.

Warnock has a long history with Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D.). Warnock served on the Democrat's transition team in 2018—Bottoms later faced criticism when she used taxpayer funds to pay campaign aides for transition work before she took office, a move that "circumvented normal city hiring processes and broke with longstanding political practice," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Just months into her tenure, Bottoms appointed Warnock's then-wife as the city's "senior human trafficking fellow," which also drew a six-figure salary.

Warnock defeated former Republican senator Kelly Loeffler by roughly 2 points in January. He is expected to face Republican challenger Herschel Walker in 2022.