Oct. 8, 2013 — Georgia lawmakers touted their 2013 ethics bill as historic, noting that they’d restored rule-making authority to the Campaign Finance Commission. Now, though, House Speaker David Ralston’s lawyer, Doug Chalmers, contends the commission can’t enforce a key disclosure rule on campaign spending. That interpretation, if it prevails, could muzzle the watchdog charged with policing campaign finance and disclosure in Georgia. Politicians could obscure details of countless dollars in campaign spending simply by using a personal credit card and getting reimbursed with campaign funds.
Sept. 26, 2013 — Real PAC, a political committee with close ties to Gov. Nathan Deal, has filed its first tax forms with the IRS, one of which was more than a year overdue. The filings raise new questions about the timing of large gifts from businesses seeking state contracts or legislation.
July 19, 2013 — A political committee run by close associates of Gov. Nathan Deal has pocketed at least $327,500 since 2012 without reporting it, apparently skirting disclosure rules and the federal tax code.
Major benefactors of the committee, Real PAC, include health-care interests seeking tens of millions — even billions — of dollars in business with state government. One donor, WellCare of Georgia, gave Real PAC $50,000 on the same day that state Medicaid officials said they planned to extend WellCare’s $1 billion-a-year contract for two years.
Sept. 26, 2012 — Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has reimbursed his campaign $8,500 even though his lawyer says he didn’t have to. The payment covers money that Rogers collected from his Senate expense account for costs paid by his campaign committee. Attorney Doug Chalmers said Rogers has loaned the campaign much more than that, but he cut the check “to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”
Four years ago, a lobbyist and a state senator completed a casual real estate deal at an iconic Atlanta-area restaurant. No money appeared to change hands, suggesting a gift worth tens of thousands of dollars, and the senator did not disclose he had acquired a condo in the deal. Both parties now say the paperwork was incorrect. The circumstances illustrate the frequently close relationships between the lobbyists and the lobbied and underscore the importance of fully understanding the information conveyed in public records.
DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton failed to disclose more than $101,000 in contributions to her campaigns in 2006 and 2008. For that, she agreed Friday to pay a $2,500 fine. Then-state Rep. Stan Watson, a fellow commissioner, also agreed to a $1,500 fine Friday for raising campaign money while the state Legislature was in session.
State senators this week agreed to give the State Campaign Finance Commission a fraction of the sum needed to meet new requirements for enforcing ethics laws. The Senate recommended a $30,000 bump for the agency’s certified mail expenses, rather than the requested $130,000, and none of the $290,000 sought for processing and posting thousands of local candidates’ financial disclosures online.
March 14, 2011 — Georgia’s ethics reformers have a bill to push, but they’ll be pushing uphill if they want to restrict politicians giving large sums to each other, a practice sometimes described as “empire-building.” A case in point? Three top Senate Republicans, as they maneuvered to strip Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle last year of some of his power, donated $45,000 to 12 Senate freshmen. Caucus Chair Bill Cowsert said the contributions were part of his obligation as a party leader, not an effort to sway votes.
Gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal has refunded $130,000 in campaign contributions that allegedly exceeded the legal limit. A campaign disclosure filed shortly before midnight Monday shows Deal returned many of the contributions cited in an Oct. 19 complaint to the State Ethics Commission. The refunds included more than $80,000 from three businessmen in Lawrenceville, Helena and Moultrie.
Sen. Ralph Hudgens says he loaned his campaign the money to pay for two weeks of TV ads but neglected to file the necessary last-minute disclosures. The Madison County Republican, a candidate for state insurance commissioner, says he could file complaints against several opponents if he chose, but “I want to honor Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment of ‘Speak no ill of your Republican brothers.'”
Since 2001, Georgia has asked local political candidates who raise $10,000 or more to disclose the details — who gave it to you, how much, how you spent it — by “electronic means.” So what exactly does that mean? It definitely does not mean making it easy for the public to find them. Check out my Ethics Watch column for this week in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton says identity theft might be the cause of her recent troubles over bad checks in Gwinnett County. But signatures on the four bounced checks look quite similar to Sutton’s signature on campaign disclosure documents on file at the Georgia secretary of state’s office. See for yourself …