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Ethics panel: Limits apply to candidates’ donations after all
By JIM WALLS
The State Ethics Commission ruled today that political campaigns may not give unlimited amounts of donations to other campaigns, reversing course from its position of just two weeks ago.
Uncertainty over the commission’s position had raised the possibility that unopposed candidates with lots of campaign cash could donate unlimited amounts to candidates in closer races.
On Aug. 17, the commission dismissed a complaint about a $10,000 contribution — far above the $2,400 limit — to Warner Robins mayoral candidate Chuck Chalk late last year. The donation came from the account of the city’s deceased mayor. Commissioners said language in the Ethics in Government Act might allow political candidates, unlike other donors, to give as much as they want “without limitation” to other campaigns.
At the time, commission officials said they believed their hands were tied because the language in state law would supersede a commission rule regarding contribution limits.
But in an advisory opinion issued today, the commission said other language in the statute caps those types of donations.
Lifting the limits for campaign-to-campaign transfers, the opinion said,
“could permit candidates and the candidate’s contributors to have unlimited direct influence over another candidate or public officer. It would also provide an exemption that is not permitted for any other person, entity or organization and would necessarily provide an exemption for the receiving candidate himself who is not permitted to accept contributions in excess of the contribution limits. The result would be an abolishing of the public policies established by the Act for one particular group, the candidates themselves. We do not believe that this was the intent of the legislature as it may dilute the integrity of the democratic process and at a minimum would give the appearance of potential corruption among the political campaigns themselves.”
Officials hinted today that they might reexamine circumstances of the Chalk case. The donor — the political account of late Mayor Donald Walker — has not filed reports on how it disposed of any of its funds.