Ex-Sen. Chip Rogers: Where did the $96K go?
By JIM WALLS
Nov. 18, 2016 — Abra kadabra! With a few keystrokes, former Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has made tens of thousands of campaign dollars — at least figuratively — disappear.
Rogers, whose campaign finances are under state investigation, reported after leaving the Senate in 2012 that his re-election fund held about $234,000 in unspent donations.
But now he says only $138,000 remained in the account in January 2013, according to an amended disclosure filed in August. No explanation was offered for the $96,000 discrepancy.
The change is significant because Rogers’ dormant account — holding money raised for his single term in the House of Representatives in 2003-04 — still owed him $70,000 for a personal loan. With the higher balance, the fund could repay more than 80 percent of that debt.
It’s unclear whether Rogers can be held accountable for transactions prior to 2013, since Georgia has a 3-year statute of limitations for legislators’ campaign disclosures.
But William Perry, whose 2015 complaint sparked the pending probe of Rogers, said the former senator needs to be transparent about the discrepancies.
“Amending reports that are now beyond the statute of limitations without providing any explanation, I feel, is the equivalent of stealing,” said Perry, head of the advocacy group Georgia Ethics Watchdogs. “If that is not happening, he owes the people of Georgia an explanation.”
What accounts for the revised campaign figures is not known: previously undisclosed donations or spending, unreported loans, or a fund transfer from one account to the other. (Other than making donations under the legal limit, candidates may not spend money raised to seek one office to campaign or retire debt for another.)
Doug Chalmers, Rogers’ attorney, declined to comment on the new filings.
Rogers filed three years of delinquent campaign disclosures in August at the same time he amended the older ones, answering a question we posed a year ago: “Is ex-Sen. Rogers cashing in his campaign chips? Or has he already?”
The newer disclosures show the campaigns have spent more than $56,000 since 2013 to repay Rogers for personal loans. The transactions include airfare; hotel and restaurant tabs; purchases from Nike, Footlocker, Old Navy and the PGA Superstore; and tickets to Six Flags, the theater in London’s West End and Atlanta’s 2015 Shaky Boots Festival.
The state ethics commission, even before much of that spending had been reported, maintained that more than $27,000 in reimbursements to Rogers were improper. In a July 14 complaint obtained by Atlanta Unfiltered, the commission’s staff alleged that his Senate account had repaid Rogers more than $144,000 even though he had only loaned it about $117,000.
The complaint asks that Rogers refund the $27,785 difference unless he can explain the discrepancy satisfactorily. Rogers has not filed a response.
The commission opened an investigation in 2015 after Atlanta Unfiltered reported that Rogers had amended old disclosures to claim his Senate campaign owed him tens of thousands of dollars, much of it for unclaimed mileage, that he hadn’t reported while in office.
Rogers’ attorney told the commission in February that the former senator hopes to close the accounts and donate the remaining funds to charity. As of June 30, the two campaigns reported a total balance of $104,780 and a debt to Rogers of about $82,000.