May 27, 2016 — Rep. Ron Stephens has agreed to pay a modest fine for failing to list ownership of four businesses on his financial disclosures.
In January, Stephens amended his disclosures for 2012 through 2014 to add four companies to the businesses in which he owned an interest. The Garden City Republican said he knew the new filing might lead to a complaint “but I wanted to be honest. … I didn’t want to keep anything hidden.”
April 20, 2016 — Cobb County school board member David Morgan acknowledged last year that he filed no campaign disclosures for nearly four years, agreeing to a payment plan for $3,600 in civil penalties.
He hadn’t paid a penny, though, until we called him about it last week.
Feb. 19, 2015 — Up to four years of penalties for filing late campaign disclosures could be excused under bills filed this week in the Georgia Legislature.
A 2010 law required candidates for city and county offices to file campaign finance reports online with the state rather than locally. Many candidates pushed back, and the mandate was later rescinded.
Now, citing faults and malfunctions of the state ethics commission’s online filing system, two legislators are sponsoring bills to waive the late fees — $125 and up — imposed on those local candidates.
Feb. 10, 2015 — A 2005 amendment to Georgia’s campaign finance law was meant to give smaller donors a break on filing public disclosures. A decade later, though, Senate Republicans applied the law to their own PAC, raising $276,000 over a 20-month period before disclosing even a penny of it.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that the law is so weak that $250,000-plus can be raised without being reported for so long,” said William Perry, executive director of the good-government advocacy group Common Cause Georgia. “This is a glaring example of how far we have to go in Georgia for fairer disclosure.”
Oct. 22, 2013 — State Auditor Greg Griffin, rather than the attorney general’s office, will try to sort out charges that a 2012 ethics investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal was compromised. Griffin agreed to investigate allegations that the director of the state ethics commission, after talks with key staffers in Deal’s office, ordered the case closed with a minimal penalty. The commission, which announced Griffin’s role late today, had voted last month to ask Attorney General Sam Olens to name a special assistant to review its handling of the case.
Olens, as it happened, had been mentioned
as one possible factor in Deal’s resolve to settle the case in 2012 rather than let it reach a public hearing. A commission attorney has testified she was told that the governor didn’t want Olens, a potential rival in the 2014 governor’s race, to play any role in the proceedings.
Over at Fox 5, Dale Russell reported Wednesday night on an allegation that politics is behind a push to reopen an ethics investigation of U.S. Senate candidate Karen Handel. The state ethics commission settled three complaints against Handel in April with dismissals and her payment of a $75 late filing fee. Now, Russell reports, ethics […]
Jan. 31, 2013 — Two years ago, legislative leaders squawked mightily at the notion that Georgians might have to register as lobbyists when they visit the Capitol. Today, some of those same leaders may embrace the very same position — and more — that they once deplored. A House subcommittee will consider Speaker David Ralston’s 2013 ethics package, which would make people pay $320 in lobbyist registration fees if they want to talk policy with legislators on behalf of any organization, whether it’s Georgia Power Co., the Tea Party or the Girl Scouts.
UPDATE: House members made it abundantly clear before today’s hearing that there’s no way that the final language of the ethics bill will abridge anyone’s First Amendment rights. No details yet, but it seems likely that the revised bill will try to exempt the average citizen who visits the Capitol only occasionally.
Jan. 29, 2013 — House Speaker David Ralston today called for banning most lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and, for the first time, requiring legislators to immediately disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions collected just before they convene each year. The speaker also introduced a bill to restore rule-making authority to the state ethics commission.
Nov. 26, 2012 — Legally, Georgians can’t spend campaign money raised for one political office to run for a different one. There’s a wide-open loophole, though, and veteran legislator Bill Hembree of Douglas County is only the latest to use it.
When Hembree left the Georgia House recently, he refunded $60,400 from his House campaign account to donors. Within a week, those same supporters gave all but $1,000 of the money back to Hembree to run for a just-opened Senate seat. Here’s the clever part: Rather than simply returning the most recent contributions, Hembree reached back as far as 11 years to choose the donors who got refunds.
Nov. 16, 2012 — George Anderson won his fight today over liability for Gov. Nathan Deal’s legal fees. But he says he’s finished nonetheless after a quarter-century of haranguing politicians across Georgia for perceived ethical lapses. “I can’t handle the stress anymore,” he said. “It affects my body too much.”
Paul Battles’ personal financial disclosures have omitted his role as trustee for two trusts established by his wife’s late aunt and uncle. One of them — Collins Charitable Remainder Unitrust — sold 6.5 acres in downtown Cartersville to the state Department of Transportation in 2011. Battles also did not disclose that transaction or the $2.2 million purchase price, which benefited local charities. “I didn’t think I had to do one for the trusts since I get no financial benefit from that,” he said. Battles’ family business owns 6.2 adjoining acres, zoned for commercial use.
Battles retired from Crescent Bank of Jasper in 2007 but remained on its board through 2009, as examiners were beginning to sound warnings that the bank needed to tighten lending practices and oversight by its board of directors. State regulators closed the bank in 2010 at a loss to federal insurers of $280 million. The FDIC, in a 2011 postmortem, blamed Crescent’s collapse on an aggressive growth strategy, a heavy concentration of speculative construction loans and the board’s and officers’ failure to effectively manage the associated risks.
FDIC’s 2011 postmortem said the bank violated FDIC appraisal standards, failed to vet prospective borrowers or to establish loan agreements to protect the bank’s investment, and renewed non-performing loans without proper safeguards. A 2009 cease and desist order cited eight pages of apparent law and policy violations that contained in a bank examiner’s report that has not been released publicly. The bank had already responded by toughening its risk management practices, but those corrections came too late. The FDIC’s inspector general later faulted the agency for not intervening sooner and more proactively.
Battles said the FDIC told bank officials they had done everything they could to keep Crescent open. “They said that we had gone above and beyond the call of duty trying to save the bank,” he said in an interview. “By the time we were trying to adjust, the dominoes had started falling. … We were fighting a foe that was bigger than all of us.”
Sept. 4, 2012 — Glenn Richardson walked away from the Georgia Legislature with $220,000 in campaign funds to spend with little oversight. More than 2 1/2 years later, as he plans a run for the state Senate, he still hasn’t officially disclosed what he’s done with it. The former speaker of the House assures me, though, that he hasn’t taken a penny for himself. “I have received no checks from that,” said Richardson.