No rules apply to spending by ex-speaker’s political fund
By JIM WALLS
Jan. 5, 2010 — Former House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s political fund, enriched by nearly $220,000 last week as he closed a separate campaign account, can legally spend the money almost any way it wishes. It might not even be required to reveal how the money is spent.
Richardson, who resigned Jan. 1, had raised more than $850,000 in five years through the MMV Alliance Fund, a political action committee that has paid his office and travel expenses and donated to other Republicans’ legislative campaigns. But MMV reported raising nothing in the first six months of 2009, as its cash on hand dwindled to just about $49,000.
That all changed Dec. 31, the day before Richardson stepped down as speaker, when he transferred $219,915 to MMV to shut down his campaign account. MMV hasn’t filed its Dec. 31 disclosure yet, but the payment could boost its bank balance to more than a quarter-million dollars.
State law allows a candidate’s election account to spend money only on seeking office and the “ordinary and necessary expenses” of maintaining it once elected. This allows elected officials to pay for everything from paper clips to travel that’s related to official business.
None of that, however, applies to political action committees, which are defined differently under Georgia law. (Most PACs represent specific interests — business groups, unions and the like — but political figures run a few of them.) Georgia law limits how much PACs may give to a single candidate; otherwise, the law is silent as to their spending.
“The Ethics in Government Act does not place any prohibition or restriction on how PACs spend money received,” said Rick Thompson, former executive secretary of the State Ethics Commission.
“He could spend it on anything he wants to,” Thompson said. “If he wanted to pay his rent or buy an automobile through the MMV PAC fund, there’s no restrictions on what he can do … under the Ethics in Government Act.”
The commission said as much in an August 2008 advisory opinion.
Moreover, PACs legally don’t even have to disclose their spending unless they donate more than $25,000 to political candidates in a calendar year.
Richardson announced last month he was stepping down in the wake of an attempted suicide, a scandal over an alleged affair with a lobbyist and his ex-wife’s claims that he had threatened to have the Georgia State Patrol harass her. The resignation took effect Jan. 1.
The speaker’s final campaign disclosure, filed Tuesday, shows it spent every penny in its bank account by Dec. 31. UPDATE: MMV, on the other hand, had a little over $250,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31, according to its latest disclosure.
Besides the six-figure payment to the MMV Alliance Fund, Richardson’s campaign account also paid $22,000 to MMV Consulting, a firm run by his former chief of staff Jay Walker, in the last six months. It also paid $13,032 to Laura Goss, who is the MMV Alliance Fund’s treasurer, for fund raising.
P.S. Richardson’s final campaign disclosure also shows he spent $3,969 for registration, travel and lodging at a 2009 conference of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation in Bern, Switzerland.
Campaign reports show Richardson stayed at the five-star Grand Resort, which offers a casino, golf, tennis, horseback riding and other amenities, in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland.
On its Web site, the foundation notes that it’s sponsored a Transatlantic Leadership Academy since 1999 that has
“increased communication and cooperation among political, business and academic leaders in Europe and North America. In the intervening years, this branch of SLLF has brought scores of US state legislative and business leaders together with their counterparts from across the European continent. The end result has been an increased understanding and appreciation of the common bonds shared by leaders from democracies around the world.”
Understanding is so important. Remarkably, all 11 Transatlantic conferences have been held in Europe and none in the USA.