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    Hudgens faces ethics charge over cash transfer

     

    An ethics complaint could cost Sen. Ralph Hudgens much of his fund-raising edge in the race for Georgia insurance commissioner.

    Last month, Hudgens shifted $106,000 originally raised for his state Senate re-election race to his campaign for the insurance job, according to a complaint filed this week with the State Ethics Commission.

    On Oct. 19, the 13-year legislator wrote donors to the Senate race asking if he could use their donations to his Senate campaign fund for the insurance race instead. A letter to one such donor was attached to the ethics complaint.

    In a 2008 advisory opinion, the ethics commission said candidates may not ask donors to choose between getting a refund or allowing the money to be used by a different campaign. It would be legal, though, to issue refund checks and ask donors in a separate mailing if they wish to endorse those checks for use in a new campaign.

    Hudgens told Morris News Service this week that he does not plan to return the money because an employee of the ethics commission had told him the transfer was OK. He said he now realizes, after reading the advisory opinion, that was bad advice.

    Hudgens’ letter to donors made it clear he hoped to boost his fund-raising total to establish himself as the front-runner to succeed Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who is running for governor.

    Hudgens reported $279,000 in donations over the last six months, leading all other candidates. But the number looks less impressive ($173,000) once the transfer from the Senate campaign is backed out.

    Maria Sheffield, who only started fund-raising in September, reported $105,000 in donations on her Dec. 31 report.

    The ethics complaint asks that Hudgens be ordered to refund the campaign donations for his Senate race and pay a civil penalty for violating HGeorgia’s Ethics in Government Act.

     

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