Campaign spending and a $5,500 contribution from his campaign committee has put Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine on the Georgia Ethics Commission’s “to investigate” list; the committee told the Savannah Morning News it has decided to continue to investigate the commissioner after finding “reasonable grounds” to believe Oxendine violated state ethics laws.
An Ethics Committee panel was investigating a complaint filed by George Anderson, claiming Oxendine did not provide enough information on contributors to his campaign for insurance commissioner and might have wrongly used campaign funds for personal purposes.
The agency is also probing a $5,500 contribution from Oxendine’s campaign committee for his last run for insurance commissioner to his abandoned bid for lieutenant governor, also a violation of the law.
The panel voted unanimously to hold a full hearing on the matter at a later meeting.
According to Stefan Passantino, Oxendine’s attorney, the commissioner admitted making a mistake by moving the money but wasn’t willing to settle that charge if it meant agreeing on the other charges as well.
Teddy Lee, the ethics commission’s executive secretary, told the Morning-News campaign spending totaling as much as $40,000 was “questionable” because the commissioner didn’t adequately detail what the money was spent on.
“You can’t even determine on their face if (Anderson is) right about this being for personal purposes,” Lee said. But Lee pointed out that also meant it was difficult to determine if the funds were properly used.
Among the suspicious spending was thousands of dollars for meals. While candidates are allowed to spend money for meals if they are related to running for office, Lee said the amount spent warranted a second look and Oxendine should give more detail about the meals.
Passantino said there was little space to describe the expenditures on the forms candidates are required to submit to the commission, adding that nothing proved Oxendine had done anything wrong.
“There is no evidence here that in fact any of these expenditures are not lawful expenditures,” he said. And he said that to ask Oxendine for more information would be holding him to a higher standard than other candidates.
Both sides said a $5,000 cash transfer from the insurance commissioner campaign to the lieutenant governor bid never should have happened, and that a $500 non-cash contribution was also improper. State law prohibits candidates from using money raised to run for one position to further the candidate’s bid for another office.
“We would submit that’s just a clear, straight-up, on-its-face violation,” Lee said.
Passantino said the money had been returned to the insurance-commissioner campaign and the commissioner was willing to pay a $250 fine to settle the matter.
Members of the ethics panel said they were hopeful Oxendine and the Ethics Commission’s staff could come to an agreement. But Passantino said that was unlikely on all the allegations with the exception of the contributions between the two campaigns.
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