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May 17, 2016 — Sooner or later, just about every new health-care policy in Georgia must go through Sharon Cooper. That’s why health-care interests have showered Cooper with more than $812,000 in campaign donations over the years.
The money flows from drug companies and pharmacies, doctors and dentists, hospitals and nursing homes, insurers and managed-care organizations. Many of these donors will later appear before Cooper’s committee trying to push a bill, kill one or tweak it to their advantage.
Atlanta Unfiltered reached out to Cooper to ask whether the health-care donations that help keep her in office ever represent a conflict for her. Alas, she indicated campaign demands would keep her tied up until after this year’s Republican primary.
“I’ll talk to you after this is all over,” she said on her way to a meet-and-greet reception. “I’m BUSY.”
May 11, 2016 — State Rep. Joyce Chandler, facing opponents in both the primary and general elections this year, had banked barely $12,000 in her campaign fund as of April 1. Other Republican lawmakers scurried to her aid, though, pumping nearly three times that much into her re-election committee in the ensuing five weeks.
“I’ve been grateful for that,” Chandler said. If the money helps win her another term, she can also thank Democrats who blocked a campaign-finance bill pushed a decade ago by a Republican governor and Senate.
House leaders found Mike Glanton did not violate ethics rules in 2015 when he appeared to be leveraging his public role as a legislator to generate some private business. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t come close.
Glanton denied any ill intent, and the House Ethics Committee dismissed a complaint against him because Glanton’s employer didn’t wind up benefiting from his actions.
The case prompted Ethics chair Joe Wilkinson, though, to send out a three-page warning to House members: “Linking your legislative service with your private business endeavors will often create an appearance of impropriety or improper conduct whether one is intended by the member or not. … The best rule to follow is to not link your legislative position in any manner with your private business activities.”
Feb. 22, 2016 — For most of Jeff Mullis’s 15 years in the Georgia Senate, the cash balance in his campaign account has been anybody’s guess.
Since 2010, Atlanta Unfiltered has found, accounting errors in Mullis’ campaign disclosures have lowballed his cash on hand by more than $165,000. Those discrepancies came on top of inaccuracies in earlier disclosures that misreported tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket spending as cash.
The upshot: Mullis’ disclosures have not accurately reported the size of his campaign’s bank account since 2002.
Feb. 18, 2016 — Georgia legislators today were supposed to hear a colleague’s proposal that could limit their future job prospects. Only the crickets — and Sen. Butch Miller — showed up.
Sen. Mike Crane was ready to pitch his plan to bar members of the House and Senate from taking any appointed state job for two years after leaving their seats.
But as 4 p.m. arrived, when a Senate Rules subcommittee was scheduled to vet the bill, only one member had shown up. An aide texted absent members but all were apparently in other meetings.
Feb. 17, 2016 — Most legislators have misplaced a few campaign donations over the years. Sen. Judson Hill, at least figuratively, misplaced at least 68 of them.
Now, following inquiries by Atlanta Unfiltered, Hill’s campaign has disclosed that the Marietta Republican received more than $34,000 of previously unreported contributions since 2013.
Hill did not respond to our questions, though, regarding more than $20,000 that donors reported giving him earlier but that he has not reported receiving.
Dec. 11, 2015 — Former Sen. Chip Rogers, who hasn’t reported on his six-figure campaign account since 2013, sits atop a list of dozens of politicians who appear to have done the same thing.
Atlanta Unfiltered, using Georgia’s searchable campaign finance database, found 48 former state office-holders and candidates whose most recent disclosures showed their campaign accounts still held amounts ranging from $500 to as much as $108,000.
They include a felon, a tax delinquent, a former House speaker, a former state school superintendent, a federal prosecutor, a DOT board member, a former DOT commissioner and several state officials pulling down more than $100,000 a year. Between them, the non-filers left nearly $1.1 million in campaign funds unaccounted for.
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 has failed to file four required disclosures of his campaign finances since 2013, but he’s spent plenty of time revising old ones, 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?
Nov. 19, 2015 — Three years ago, Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaign admitted that an American Express payment didn’t add up because it included a top aide’s personal expenses. The aide reimbursed the $1,185, a campaign lawyer said.
But what about the $69,000 in unexplained spending in 158 other credit card payments by Deal’s campaigns? Did they include personal expenses? No one’s saying.
Since 1998, a review of Deal’s disclosures show, virtually every credit card bill paid by his state and federal campaigns has omitted the details of some purchases.
Nov. 6, 2015 — Georgia’s disclosure laws for legislators who do business with the state, as we reported Wednesday, are a mess. It’s unclear what transactions should be reported and which of two disclosure forms should be used. Digging through data on state vendors, I came up with payments to 14 legislators’ businesses that weren’t reported on one form or the other, sometimes both. The lawyers can sort out whether the law required disclosure. I was more interested in the transparency than the legality of these types of transactions.
Nov. 5, 2015 — Dawson County officials will consider tonight whether to write a $500,000 check to partially cover a developer’s costs for road improvements — a proposal that detractors describe as an unwarranted giveaway of taxpayer dollars.
(UPDATE: The commission took no action on the road project Thursday evening after a motion to approve it failed to get a second. More to come.)
Public officials generally justify such expenditures as investments that generate jobs and tax revenue for their communities. Critics, meanwhile, question such outlays as examples of crony capitalism that cast government in the role of deciding which private enterprises will benefit from public funds.
In Dawson County, though, officials are couching the expense, in part, as a legal obligation incurred once the county signed off in July on the site plan for Dawson Marketplace, a 425,000-square-foot planned retail center.
Nov. 4, 2015 — Since Rep. James Beverly took office in 2011, his Macon optometry practice has collected more than $132,000 in taxpayer dollars for eye exams and treatment.
A consulting firm whose owners include Sen. John Albers earned $284,000 to help with reorganizing a state agency.
And several state institutions forked over $419,000 over two years to Rep. Jimmy Pruett’s middle Georgia air-conditioning business.
None of those transactions turn up on the three lawmakers’ personal financial disclosures. The reason: Georgia’s disclosure laws are confusing, subject to varying interpretations and routinely ignored.