Former Georgia House speaker Terry Coleman has tentatively settled — for $2,900 — an ethics charge that he used campaign money to buy a condo. Coleman’s campaign made $38,120 in payments on the unit, a practice ruled improper by the State Ethics Commission in 2004. Coleman later reimbursed the campaign, but an ethics complaint on the matter has been pending since 2002. “My lawyer called and said they had come up with some sort of settlement,” he said Friday. “I wrote the check.”
Hugh Floyd, a state legislator from Norcross, filed a disclosure of his personal finances a week ago, two months after the deadline set by state law. That still leaves 15 legislators who haven’t filed their 2008 disclosures, which were due July 1; five of them have not filed their 2007 reports, either. Why is this important? It’s not, unless you want to know whether your elected officials are keeping a proper distance between the public interest and their own private interests.
Former House Speaker Terry Coleman left elective office three years ago, but he says he still can’t close out his campaign fund until he can unload property given as restitution for embezzlement by a former employee. Former staffer Candice Lynn Sheffield pleaded guilty to theft in 2007 and agreed to pay $173,257 in restitution. She gave his campaign an 11-acre tract in Henry County to settle the debt, but Coleman had to pay back taxes on the land in May or risk foreclosure. Coleman disclosed the tax payments last week.
Former Georgia House Speaker Terry Coleman used $3,758 in left-over campaign funds to pay a property tax bill in Henry County. Coleman’s latest campaign disclosure, filed Friday evening, shows he made the payment May 14. State law forbids using campaign money for personal benefit. Taxes are generally regarded as a personal expense.
State Sen. Jeff Chapman of Brunwick finally filed his 2008 personal financial disclosure last week, two months after it was due. It came just a couple days before he jumped in the governor’s race. Disclosures for Rep. Toney Collins and Sen. John Meadows have also turned up. That leaves 16 legislators, including 15 Democrats, who haven’t filed a disclosure yet this year. Five of them didn’t file one last year either.
The State Ethics Commission today opened a two-week window for job applicants who want to be the state’s new top ethics enforcer. The commission hopes to interview three finalists in public at its Oct. 15 meeting. When Rick Thompson was chosen in 2006, candidates were interviewed in closed session. Senior assistant attorney general Stefan Ritter described that today as “not the best practice.”
Gov. Sonny Perdue took office in 2003 vowing to push “comprehensive ethics reform” and reverse 140 years of entrenched, Democrat-controlled good-old-boy cronyism. Now, as the governor’s final year in office approaches, a legislative smackdown suggest tougher ethics enforcement is an idea whose time has yet to come: The State Ethics Commission was stripped of its rule-making authority, took a 30 percent budget cut and lost a bid for tougher penalties for candidates who file financial reports late, or not at all. Now, executive secretary Rick Thompson is stepping down. He says it’s time to go. “I just believe in my own life it’s time to move on,” he said.
A four-day jaunt to sunny Southern California. Braves games, concerts, golf and charter boat excursions. Weekends at Amelia Island, Sandestin and Biloxi. You and I have to pay for summer diversions like these. But public disclosures show lobbyists treated your Georgia legislators to all this and more, just since May 1. Lobbyists dropped more than $193,000 cozying up to lawmakers in May, June and July, even though legislators went home for the year on April 3.
There was no fun in the sun for the four legislators who flew last month to Pasadena, Cal., said Tom Lewis, lobbyist for Georgia State University. “No golf, no beaches, no nothing else,” he said. “This was pretty much a cut-and-dried educational trip.”
(UPDATE: Atlanta’s municipal clerk has posted PDF files of 2009 campaign disclosure reports for mayor and council candidates here.)
Four years ago, Atlanta city government did a nice job making campaign disclosure reports available online for candidates for mayor and City Council. In 2009, a tight budget apparently will keep the city from posting details on the millions of dollars raised by Atlanta candidates. So Common Cause of Georgia, the good-government advocacy group, is filling the gap with its Moneywatch site. You can search for yourself to see where the special interests, elected officials and aides to former Mayor Bill Campbell are lining up in 2009. (What? You thought I was going to do it for you? Maybe a little later.)
State Sen. David Shafer was the only delinquent legislator in the last week to file his personal financial disclosure statement, which was due July 1. Good for him, but not so much for the 19 other General Assemblers who still haven’t filed theirs. Elected officials make these disclosures so you know how they earn a living, what businesses they’re interested in and where they own real estate — all good things to know about people who are handling your money. Maybe no one cares but us, but it is the law. We’re still waiting on three Republicans and 16 Democrats to give us the goods. The list …
One weekend in April, John Oxendine‘s campaign worked local Republicans hard as activists met in each congressional district. The payoff: Oxendine won straw polls at several district conventions as the GOP choice for governor in 2010. In cozying up to party activists, campaign records show, the candidate gave $11,885 to local Republican groups on April 10-19, right around the April 18 conventions. The checks, though, did not originate with his campaign for governor. They came from the $480,000 bankroll he amassed to run for re-election as insurance commissioner. ALSO OF NOTE: A few weeks earlier, Secretary of State Karen Handel paid $10,000 from her re-election campaign fund to a company run by the new spokesman for her gubernatorial campaign.
This week was a bit slower for Georgia legislators who missed the deadline to file mandatory financial disclosure statements. Six more lawmakers — including Calvin Smyre, chairman of the House minority caucus — bit the bullet and turned in paperwork that, by law, was supposed to have been filed a month ago. That leaves six state senators and 14 members of the House who still haven’t made the disclosures.
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This page covers financial disclosures by public officials -- including personal finances, campaign accounts and business transactions with public agencies.