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    Ethics panel rejects Pitts consent order, heads to court

     

    Robb Pitts and the State Ethics Commission are headed to court to settle an 8-year-old dispute over excessive and unreported campaign loans.

    The commission Monday rejected a proposed consent order that would have closed the matter with Pitts paying no fine and no restitution. No statute of limitations applies, but commission members were told Pitts could still win in court and wind up with no penalty or finding of responsibility.

    Kent Alexander, a former federal prosecutor, said he’d rather lose in court “than have the commission say an elected official who is an experienced campaigner violates the rules” and gets away with it.

    As we reported last month, several campaign officials and supporters loaned the $45,000 needed to cover a bounced check intended to pay the Pitts campaign’s 2001 Election Day workers. (He lost the mayor’s race that year to Shirley Franklin.)

    But those loans far exceeded the $2,000 limit on campaign contributions. Some of the payments were made to a campaign official, not the campaign, and thus were not included on Pitts’ financial disclosure reports.

    Three of the lenders — Southern Co. CEO A.W. “Bill” Dahlberg, developer Robert L. Silverman and former Atlanta Board of Education chair Mitzi Bickers — admitted violations of the Ethics in Government Act last fall. Each signed consent orders with the Ethics Commission but were not fined.

    Dahlberg and Silverman, who each loaned $9,500 for the get-out-the-vote effort, were never paid back, said their attorney, James A. Washburn. Bickers has not returned telephone calls seeking comment.

    The allegations came to light in 2002 when Bickers and other lenders sued the Pitts campaign to get their money back. The dispute was settled, but the details are unavailable; clerks at Fulton County State Court searched late last year and reported the case file was missing.

    Pitts, now a Fulton County commissioner, says the $45,000 check was blank when he signed it and he didn’t know “what ultimately happened” with the money, said assistant attorney general Julie Anderson, who represents the commission.

    A five-year statute of limitations applies to ethics cases opened since 2003, but there is no limitation on older cases such as Pitts’.

    An administrative law judge last year denied Pitts’ request to dismiss the charges because they are so old. But the judge allowed that portion of the case to be decided in Fulton County Superior Court where, Anderson said, he may make a “sympathetic argument” for dismissal.

     

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    3 Responses to “Ethics panel rejects Pitts consent order, heads to court”

    1. Montana says:

      Ah, fulton county commission. Making the fellas two blocks up look like pros.

    2. Bill Bozarth says:

      After years of the State Ethics Commission letting so many people slide on violations like this one, it’s refreshing to hear Alexander’s strong words. So far, he looks like a good appointment.

      The General Assembly is likely to strengthen Georgia’s ethics laws this session, and may even give the Commission added responsibility. Without the funding to do the job, and without the will of individual commissioners to get tough with violaters, none of this matters.

      With Proctor’s quick departure and two other commissioners’ terms expiring in early 2010, the “appointers” have a chance to stack the commission with strong enforcers. That’s one of the best ways I can think of to change the ethical climate in state government.

    3. Deborah Owens says:

      All ethics bills to date are scams- making the citizens of GA think there is ethics reform when there is none whatsoever. Ethics Commissioners are appointed by those they investigate. PACs are protected by law and serve the purpose of money laundering. Legislation is for sale by legislators. As long as we are governed by laws that are intiated by special interests and foreign entitites we are not living in the America the founding fathers intended. If the following will not happen, ask why? I am not a lawyer, just a mom with horse sense, so the following may have legal issues- but perhaps many of those could be worked out.

      WE NEED AN ETHICS BILL that is not a joke. We need an Ethics Bill that will control PACs and the purchase of legislation through money laundering PACs.

      PLEASE SEE THE FOLLOWING POINTS FOR A BILL:

      1. All donations and gifts must be $100, or less, per contributor, per quarter.

      2. PACs cannot donate more than $25 in money or gift to a candidate, campaign, or elected, per quarter.

      3. PACs cannot donate or provide gifts, promises of employment, employment, to the candidates’ and electeds’ staffers, office personnel, spouse, first, second, and third degree relatives and their spouses and relatives by law, and any entities/firms in which they hold positions, or from which they derive benefit, including retirement benefits, during term of office or election cycle and for a period of two years after office, election cycle.

      4. Candidates report all gifts over $25, regardless of source.

      5. Candidates/electeds may donate up to $50,000 to their own campaign per quarter.

      6. Candidates report all gifts and donations from PACs, regardless of amount, [all are less than $25].

      7. PACs report all gifts, donations, and transfers to campaigns, candidates, candidates family, and politicians’ office members/staffers, for a period of 4 years after term of office or election. Family to include family that are spouse, first, and second degree relatives, and relatives by law [to first, second degree relatives] and any entities/firms in which they hold positions, or from which they derive benefit, including retirement benefits.

      8. Candidates and electeds must report spending of campaign funds quarterly to their local election office, and to Secretary of State or State Ethics Commission, with a witnessed signature.

      9. Candidate expenses must be candidate and staff personnel campaign expenses only. Taxes, mortgages, family travel expenses, family salary expenses, family benefit expenses, family employee expenses, cannot be paid with campaign funds.

      9. a. Transfers of all funds from campaign fund to other entities shall be reported. Transfer of funds can only be to other GA campaigns.

      9. b. At the end of term or election cycle funds must either be used for another GA state campaign or transferred to another GA state campaign, subject to the GA Election Law, or retained as is, for a future campaign.

      9. c. At the end of the term or election cycle Candidate may remove funds in the amount he personally contributed.

      9. d. Lame ducks cannot keep amounts exceeding the amount they personally placed in the fund in the preceding year.

      10. Candidates and electeds must file financial disclosure forms quarterly to their local election office and to Secretary of State or State Ethics Commission, with a witnessed signature.

      11. Failure to file required campaign and financial disclosures shall have a 30 day grace period, with receipted USPS notification to candidate/elected of failure to file by State Ethics Commission.

      12. Failure to file campaign and financial disclosures shall require a hearing, within 6 months, at State Ethics Commission, with costs paid by candidate, or elected, if found guilty.

      13. Ethics Commission shall be empowered to impose punishment, and fines of $10,000 per failure to file. Fines shall be provided to the general fund. Failure to file shall carry a misdemeanor charge with jail time of up to 1 year. Ethics Commission shall be empowered to attach wages, and real property, or have the court system do it.

      14. Acceptance of donations and gifts of over $100 shall be punishable with fines of $10,000 and up to one year in jail, and carry misdemeanor charges for candidate or elected.

      15. Complaints of candidate, or elected failure to file, or disclose can be brought by any person or entity.

      16. Intentional false complaints against candidate or elected can carry a misdemeanor charge, with up to one year in jail, and fines of $10,000, per complaint, payable to the general fund.

      17. Lobbyists must report expenses, for all gatherings, parties, meetings, planned or unplanned, with candidates and electeds to Ethics Commission.

      18. Complaints of lobbyist failure to file, or disclose can be brought by any person or entity.

      19. State Ethics Commission can impose fines of $10,000 per failure to report by lobbyist, payable to the general fund.

      20. Intentional false complaints against a lobbyist can carry a misdemeanor charge, with up to one year in jail and fines of $10,000, per complaint, payable to the general fund. [Someone said this was not possible that the constitution requires a jury trial and in that case, a jury trial should be given].

      21. Ethics Commission shall be empowered to impose misdemeanor penalties and fines or allow state court to impose penalty, at their discretion, per their docket needs, and severity of charges.

      22. Three or more separate findings of guilt shall constitute a three strikes you are out, and disqualify future candidacy for office.

      23. Candidate/Electeds Filings shall be kept on line by their municipal/county governments, if that government is on line.

      24. Secretary of State Ethics Commission shall maintain campaign donation records, entire complaints, dates of hearings, and video of hearings on line for a period of 10 years.

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