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Oxendine, Handel, other guber hopefuls dip into ‘old’ campaign $$$
One weekend in April, John Oxendine‘s campaign worked local Republican conventions hard as party activists met to choose their local leadership and delegates to the state convention.
The payoff: Oxendine won straw polls at several district conventions as the GOP choice for governor in 2010.
While cozying up to party activists, campaign records show, Oxendine gave $11,885 to local Republican groups on April 10-19, right around the April 18 conventions. Gifts ranged from $50 to groups in Rockdale and Henry counties to $2,500 each for two groups of young Republicans.
The checks, though, did not originate with Oxendine’s campaign for governor. They came from the $480,000 bankroll he had previously amassed to run for re-election as Georgia’s insurance commissioner.
Overall, Oxendine has spent $446,000 on his campaign for governor since jumping into the race a year ago. But he’s also spent $167,000 from his campaign account for insurance commissioner, and another $408,000 is available where that came from.
Georgia law allows candidates to spend money from these “old” accounts as long as the expenses relate to the “ordinary and necessary expenses” of holding that office. They may also clear up old campaign debts or give money to other candidates’ races, but they may not transfer money directly from one of their own campaign accounts to another.
Other candidates have also dipped into such “old” campaign accounts since joining the governor’s race, campaign records show, but not to the same degree:
— Karen Handel spent $11,050 from her Secretary of State campaign fund since jumping in the governor’s race March 26. The biggest expense, on March 27, was $10,000 to Tactical Communications Solutions LLC, a company run by her gubernatorial campaign spokesman, Dan McLagan.
— State Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) spent $34,411 from his lieutenant governor’s campaign account after switching to the governor’s race in April. The payments include $9,922 to consultant Simons & Associates, $7,607 to consultant Dickey Strategic Relations, $3,013 to campaign manager Ben Fry and $1,194 for legal work.
— House Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) has spent $5,696 from his House campaign fund, including $2,436 for T-shirts.
— Thurbert Baker has spent $12,325 from his attorney general campaign fund since officially joining the governor’s race April 2. The top recipient, finance staffer David Schnell, got $4,848.
Oxendine’s campaign issued a statement Wednesday to say that all expenditures by his campaign fund for insurance commissioner were proper.
“The Commissioner has demonstrated a high regard for ethics regulations,” campaign manager Tim Echols said in the statement. “These ethics rules allow campaign committees some discretion in the expenditure of contributions. These include but are not limited to donations that can be made to charities, to other campaign committees, and the state party. All the expenses listed in our disclosure met the qualification of being a legitimate expense.”
The State Ethics Commission has jurisdiction to rule on the propriety of campaign expenses, but generally does not step in on such matters unless an official complaint has been filed.
“The prohibition is that a candidate cannot make a contribution from one committee to another committee for the same candidate,” said Rick Thompson, the commission’s executive secretary. “However, it is expected if the candidate is an incumbent that they will still have expenses from the old campaign.”
Since launching his gubernatorial bid in April 2008, Oxendine’s campaign account for insurance commissioner has made payments that include:
— $45,100 in contributions to Republican candidates, primarily incumbent legislators.
— $16,700, including a month’s salary and a $13,000 bonus in July 2008 for efforts in 2007, to his then-campaign manager, Kathryn Ballou.
— $6,884 to Sand Mountain Communications for campaign consulting.
— $5,627 for materials for his Transform Georgia campaign, aimed at “transforming the efficiency” of state government.
— $5,110 in October to Gabe Winslow, now the campaign’s director of Web strategies, for taxpayer education.
— $5,071 to a sign company in Tyler, Texas.
Oxendine’s insurance commissioner account also gave money in that period to organizations whose support any GOP candidate would want, including the Georgia Christian Alliance ($4,500), the Georgia Agribusiness Council ($2,000), the National Rifle Association ($1,200) and Georgia Right to Life ($500).