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Is ex-Sen. Rogers cashing in his campaign chips? Or has he already?
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By JIM WALLS
Dec. 2, 2015 — Former Sen. Chip Rogers has
laid the groundwork to write himself checks for more than $84,000 from two dormant campaign accounts.
Rogers may already have done so. There’s no way to know for sure, in part because he’s failed to file new disclosures of his campaign finances, as required by law, since 2013.
But the former Senate majority leader has spent plenty of time revising older disclosures, recording tens of thousands of dollars of previously undisclosed debt for out-of-pocket expenses.
His revised disclosures raise a question that Georgia law does not address: Can a candidate retroactively claim to have made campaign loans that were never reported while in office? Although many campaigns routinely amend earlier reports, the law does not mention amending of disclosures (other than as a way to correct a technical defect noted by the Campaign Finance Commission).
Rogers did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment.
In 2004, as a first-term member of the Georgia House, Rogers reported loaning his campaign nearly $96,000 for his first Senate race. That campaign account whittled the debt down to $64,000 by July 2009 and subsequently repaid Rogers more than two-thirds of that amount.
Nevertheless, the campaign’s most recent filing reported that it still owed Rogers about $66,500. The reason: Previously unreported “deferred expenses” that his disclosures hadn’t noted while he was in office.
In December 2012, for instance, Rogers filed amendments claimed he was owed about $14,000 for unreimbursed mileage during an earlier two-year span. In early 2014, he claimed about $10,600 more for mileage. Several amended disclosures added about $950 owed him for paying phone bills.
Nearly $21,000 of the newly reported debt was less specific. One amendment increased Rogers’ carryover debt in mid-2009 from $64,600 to $85,500; the only explanation was a note that the higher amount “represents the amount owed as of June 30, 2009 from the campaign to the candidate.”
I tried to contact Rogers about the amended disclosures last year and got a call back from Doug Chalmers, an attorney who helped him prepare the amendments. Chalmers told me then that the senator, during a thorough review of his campaign’s finances, found debts that he hadn’t known about.
“Chip went back and reviewed all of his disclosure reports and all of his financial activity since 2004 and concluded that he was owed more money than he had disclosed previously and we decided to amend the disclosure reports going back five years so that the last five years are accurate,” Chalmers said.
Chalmers wouldn’t say, though, why Rogers didn’t explain how the debt jumped to $85,500, saying only that “we decided to file amendment going back five years.”
Without that detail, it’s unclear whether Rogers’ amendments provide enough information to justify reimbursing him. Georgia law requires that candidates report the date and purpose of every campaign expense over $100, as well as the date of every loan or extension of credit.
Other details of Rogers’ 2012 disclosures suggest his reportedly well-heeled campaign may have had less cash on hand than it reported.
In 2010 and 2011, for instance, while reporting that his campaign had more than $240,000 cash on hand, he paid the $950 in phone bills with personal funds rather than the campaign’s. A year later, again with a reputed six-digit bank account, he loaned his campaign $8,500 and arranged for a PAC funded by the Senate Republican Caucus to pay for tens of thousands of dollars in campaign mailings.
Such transactions made headlines in 2012 when primary challenger Brandon Beach asked why Rogers needed the PAC’s financial help.
“I have to question whether Senator Rogers really has $291,000 in his campaign account,” Beach said at the time. “If he truly has $291,000 in his account why does he need to use Senate Caucus funds?”
Rogers never reported that any of his campaign funds were invested and therefore might have been inaccessible. (Of course, former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine didn’t either — until he recently filed amendments stating that he’d invested $237,000 of campaign funds in his law practice.)
Today, there’s no way to tell how much money sits in Rogers’ Senate campaign account. He’s missed four filing deadlines since his last disclosure in mid-2013, when he reported the campaign still owed him $66,458. (I found errors, though, in the debt balance carried over to his March and June 2012 revised reports; he actually should have reported that the campaign owed him $73,522.)
Rogers has also missed three filing deadlines for his House campaign fund. At last report, in December 2013, the House account held $10,875 and owed him $70,000 for loans dating from his first House race in 2002.
Rogers’ failure to update those disclosures leaves more than $217,000 in campaign funds unaccounted for.