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Ethics panel drops some Oxendine charges, pursues others

 

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By JIM WALLS

Dec. 16, 2015 — State ethics commissioners have them statute-of-limitation blues. Today, a decade-old legislative gaffe led them to drop nearly two dozen charges alleging campaign finance violations by former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

But the agency, formally known as the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, also voted to continue to pursue charges that Oxendine spent $208,000 that should have been returned to donors after he finished fourth in the 2010 Republican primary for governor. The commission is also looking into whether the campaign’s loan of $237,000 to Oxendine’s private law practice was an illegal conversion of political donations to personal use.

Today’s action stemmed from an apparent oversight in Georgia’s 2005 rewrite of campaign finance laws.

The final version of the bill set the statute of limitations at five years for cases against candidates who are elected to statewide office. With no reference in the bill to losing candidates, Oxendine’s attorney Doug Chalmers argued, a one-year statute of limitations referenced elsewhere in Georgia law applies. (Later, the Legislature gave statewide losers a five-year statute of limitations effective in 2011 — too late to cover most losers’ actions from 2010.)

The commission’s staff in September amended a pending 2009 complaint against Oxendine to add more than two dozen alleged campaign finance violations that occurred in 2010. Staff attorney Robert Lane contended today that the statute of limitations would not preclude those new charges but commission members, with apparent reluctance, disagreed.

As a result, the commission voted to drop 20 different allegations that Oxendine accepted a total of more than $56,000 in excess campaign contributions in 2010. Also time-barred, the commission ruled, were charges that he improperly spent nearly $2,000 in campaign funds on membership dues to the Commerce Club and Delta Air Lines’ Crown Room.

Today’s concession on the statute of limitations could hamper efforts to pursue some of the 97 backlogged ethics cases, some of which date as far back as the Oxendine case or longer.

 

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