Oxendine gets advisory opinion as probe of $120K continues
Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine may be personally off the hook for accepting $120,000 in campaign funds from two Alabama-based political action committees, according to language in a new opinion from the State Ethics Commission.
But the opinion does not directly address the amount of the contributions, which may have far exceeded limits set by state law. A separate investigation on that issue is pending.
The ethics commission on Monday posted an advisory opinion to clarify whether elected regulators such as Oxendine may accept campaign money from people or businesses that are associated with entities that his office regulates — such as an executive or a parent company.
State law prohibits insurance and small loan businesses, which Oxendine regulates in Georgia, from giving money to a candidate for insurance commissioner or, in this case, his campaign for governor. Similar restrictions apply to contributions to candidates for state labor commissioner, agriculture commissioner, attorney general, school superintendent, secretary of state and Public Service Commission.
An associated person or company — if it is not itself regulated — may give money to those political campaigns, the commission ruled. They may not, however, make that sort of political donation if they are acting on behalf of a regulated entity.
In the case at hand, reported May 10 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, two Rome, Ga.-based insurance companies gave $120,000 to 10 different political action committees in Birmingham, Ala., in 2008. The PACs turned around and gave $120,000 to Oxendine’s campaign in checks dated either Sept. 25 or Dec. 31.
Oxendine has said he did not know the money originated with the insurance companies. Oxendine returned the contributions after the news story broke, he said, “out of an abundance of caution.”
Under the ethics commission’s opinion, a candidate may assume a donation from a political action committee is legal unless he knows or should have known that a regulated entity was the original source of the money. That language was inserted at the request of an attorney for the Oxendine campaign.
The opinion does not address the size of the Alabama PACs’ donations. At the time, Georgia law prohibited donations of more than $15,300 from a single source to a candidate’s primary, runoff and general election campaign. The Ethics Commission is investigating a separate complaint that the $120,000 in donations exceeded that limit.