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Insurance firms: ‘No control’ over $120K donated to Oxendine
By JIM WALLS
Dec. 3, 2010 — A Georgia insurance company had no inkling that $120,000 in political donations would wind up almost immediately in the campaign of Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, the State Ethics Commission was told Thursday.
The commission is considering whether to advance or dismiss an ethics case against the company and an affiliate. After hearing a couple hours of arguments Thursday, the panel deferred a decision until it’s received written briefs in January.
State Mutual Insurance Co., based in Rome, and its wholly owned subsidiary American Life Insurance Co. of America, sent $120,000 to 10 political action committees in Birmingham, Ala., in 2008. Within 24 hours, the PACs cut checks for the same amounts to Oxendine’s campaign for governor of Georgia.
The insurance companies are owned by Delos Yancey III, a friend and hunting buddy of Oxendine’s. Birmingham lawyer Donald V. Watkins Sr., whose firm runs the PACs, sits on the board of both companies. He also chairs the Alabama bank, located at the same address, where the PACs deposited the checks; Yancey was one of the bank’s founders.
But it’s really just a coincidence that the $120,000 wound up with Oxendine, the insurance companies’ attorneys said Thursday.
“Our purpose was to contribute to the PACs. Period,” attorney Robert Finnell said. “We had no control and no interest in what happened after that.”
Randy Evans, another attorney for the companies, said the donations were like “Chamber of Commerce” contributions that could be spent any way the recipient wished.
Regulated entities in Georgia may not make political donations to the elected official who regulates them, or to candidates for that office. State law at the time also limited campaign donations to a candidate like Oxendine to $15,300 from a single source.
The commission’s deputy executive secretary laid out its case Thursday in a Powerpoint presentation that you can see here.
“The affiliations are obvious,” executive secretary Stacey Kalberman said. “It would be an absolute sham for the parties to deny that these affiliations do not exist.”
But Evans argued that the commission could not prove the insurance companies intended or even knew that the money would be redirected to Oxendine.
“If there is a piece of evidence showing any intent on my clients’ part, let’s see it,” he said.