Live ethics blog: Michael Julian Bond fined $45K, Ralston to pay $1,600
By JIM WALLS
Dec. 8, 2016 — We’re gonna try something new today — live-blogging today’s meeting of the state ethics commission. Because we know how interested y’all are.
House Speaker David Ralston, Atlanta mayoral candidate Vincent Fort and Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. — as well as many other worthies — all have business with the commission.
12:14 p.m.: Michael Julian Bond, the Atlanta City Council member, was just fined $45,000 for 300 campaign finance violations. The penalty is believed to be the largest ever assessed by the commission.
An investigation, officials said, found Bond had failed to disclose or itemize 252 donations or expenditures amounting to more than $100,000 (reviewing the records a little later, that figure looks to be closer to $80,000 to me). He failed to file 15 campaign or personal financial disclosures on time, the commission said.
Bond also spent $6,126 of campaign funds for his personal benefit, including electricity, Internet and phone bills for his home and car insurance premiums. That sum also included $400 for CPAP equipment to treat sleep apnea.
Other expenditures — primary cash withdrawals — could not be identified as being for personal or campaign use, officials said.
“Mr. Bond was doing things like going to an instant teller late at night” and withdrawing campaign funds, said Stefan Ritter, the commission’s executive secretary. “It’s hard for us to believe that’s only for campaign purposes.”
Before approving a consent order with Bond today, the commission pondered whether criminal prosecution might be in order. Ritter said he’s talked with both state and federal prosecutors and doesn’t think they would pursue a criminal case.
“They didn’t say it wasn’t prosecutable. They declined,” Ritter said of the state Attorney General’s office. “I think criminal prosecution is not feasible.”
The negotiated $45,000 fine, while imposing, is still a bargain for Bond. Due to escalating penalties for repeat violations, the fine could have been closer to $1 million.
Lawton Jordan, the commission’s chairman, said he wished the commission could bring down the hammer on Bond.
“You look at the violations and it’s just egregious,” Jordan said. “I wish there was some other alternative because I think [with] this level of violation, you don’t belong in office.”
Bond did not attend today’s meeting.
11:10 a.m.: The commission just signed off on a consent order fining House Speaker David Ralston for accepting $12,800 in campaign donations over the legal limit.
The discrepancies turned up as the commission staff was looking over a 2010 complaint that Ralston had misspent campaign funds. Those allegations were deemed to be groundless, but the excess contributions were discovered in the meantime.
Ralston refunded all the donations in 2013 within 30 days of the commission notifying of them.
“All of these contributions were disclosed” on Ralston’s campaign filings, said Bethany Whetzel, an attorney for the commission. “It wasn’t as if there was some sort of bad intent.”
11:03 a.m.: Rep. Earnest Smith, who lost his bid for re-election this year, agreed to an $8,000 fine for leaving 84 cash expenditures off his campaign disclosures.
“My client may be disorganized … but he definitely wants to follow the letter of the law,” said his attorney, Carlos Vilela.
10:52 a.m.: Brad Carver, former campaign aide to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue, just offered to fall on his own sword on behalf of seven other lobbyists at Hall Booth Smith P.C. whose August spending reports were filed a month late. Each accumulated $1,100 in late fees as a result (well, one was only $825). Carver said it’s all his fault, because his administrative assistant missed the deadline, and asked the commission to reduce his late fee to $275 and waive the others altogether. None of them had actual spending to disclose but were required to file the reports nonetheless.
Commission member Mary Paige Adams, though, told Carver that the late filers should understand that “if you get hit by a bus, or your administrative assistant does, then they still have a responsibility to file.” On her motion, the late fees were reduced to $275 for each lobbyist.
10:25 a.m.: We’ve already skipped over the first case. Rep. Betty Price, whose husband Tom is Donald Trump’s nominee for HHS secretary, asked for a late-fee waiver but her attorney had a conflict and couldn’t show up. Records show Price has a $125 late fee for filing her personal financial disclosure two days late in 2013, when she was serving on the Roswell City Council.