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Ethics panel drops some Oxendine charges, pursues others

December 16, 2015 --

Dec. 16, 2015 — State ethics commissioners have the statute-of-limitation blues. Today, a decade-old legislative gaffe led them to drop nearly two dozen charges alleging campaign finance violations by former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

But the commission also voted to continue to pursue charges that Oxendine spent $208,000 that should have been returned to donors after he finished fourth in the 2010 Republican primary for governor. The agency is also looking into the legality of the campaign’s loan of $237,000 to Oxendine’s private law practice.

Nathan Deal, take note: New rules close loopholes for mystery campaign spending

December 15, 2015 --

Dec. 15, 2015 — Two new campaign finance rules prevent the kind of maneuver that Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaign used to avoid explaining more than $9,100 in credit card charges.

On a 4-0 vote today, the Georgia Campaign Finance Commission clarified that failing to disclose how campaign donations are spent cannot be considered a so-called “technical defect.”

The commission settled a 2012 case by treating Deal’s failure to itemize the spending as technical defects and allowing him to pay a small fee rather than say how the money was spent.

Loophole D: Dormant campaign accounts fade away with no accountability

December 11, 2015 --

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.

Is ex-Sen. Rogers cashing in his campaign chips? Or has he already?

December 2, 2015 --

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?

Isakson PAC files late to report $53K in GA donations

December 1, 2015 --

Dec. 1, 2015 — U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s leadership PAC registered in Georgia last week, a day after Atlanta Unfiltered asked about its failure to report more than $53,000 in political donations last year.

Isakson’s 21st Century Majority Fund donated $33,300 to state and local candidates in Georgia in 2014, triggering a requirement that it also file disclosures with the state Campaign Finance Commission.

Loophole C: Credit card omissions just fine, Deal case shows

November 19, 2015 --

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.

One ‘yes or no’ lifts GA’s ethics ranking to 24th

November 10, 2015 --

Information on Atlanta Unfiltered is free to all — except me. To help me continue following the money in Georgia politics, please use the Donate button on this page. By JIM WALLS Nov. 10, 2015 — Much of Georgia’s remarkable upgrade in ethics rankings – from 50th in the nation in 2012 to 24th today […]

Oxendine campaign “invested” $237K in his law firm

Oxendine campaign "invested" $237K in his law firm
November 9, 2015 --

Nov. 9, 2015 — Former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine took a novel approach to investing his campaign funds, new disclosures show: loaning hundreds of thousands of dollars to his private business — much of it just weeks before Oxendine bought a $965,000 house in north Fulton County.

State law allows campaigns to make investments but forbids candidates from using political donations as personal assets.

Loophole B: 14 lawmakers’ undisclosed business with state

November 6, 2015 --

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.

Dawson County debates $500K expense for developer’s road

Dawson County debates $500K expense for developer's road
November 5, 2015 --

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.

Loophole B: Business disclosure rules baffling, often ignored

Loophole B: Business disclosure rules baffling, often ignored
November 4, 2015 --

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.

Loophole A: ALEC scholarships top $350K, go undisclosed

Loophole A: ALEC scholarships top $350K, go undisclosed
September 24, 2015 --

Sept. 24, 2015 — Deep-pocketed special interests have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on junkets for Georgia legislators — including airfare and rooms in four- and five-star hotels — without reporting a penny.

Most of those special interests employ lobbyists in Georgia, who would have had to publicly disclose that spending if they’d been the ones picking up the tab. But the payments instead have been channeled through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an inside-the-Beltway advocacy group with no registered lobbyists in Georgia, so the sources and beneficiaries of the payments remain, officially, a secret.

Atlanta Unfiltered, though, has obtained documents showing Georgia legislators collected just over $350,000 for ALEC travel expenses from 2004 to 2012.