By James Salzer, AJC.com Staff Writer
The attorney for former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said the state missed the deadline to file new ethics complaints against the ex-politician over how he raised and spent money during his failed 2010 campaign for governor.
And Oxendine’s attorney, Douglas Chalmers, said the former commissioner neither collected excess contributions nor illegally spent money raised for races he never ran, as state ethics commission staffers contend.
Chalmers laid out his arguments in his motion asking the state ethics commission to dismiss a complaint filed against Oxendine over his handling of the 2010 race.
Commission staffers declined to comment.
Commission officials filed an amended complaint against Oxendine in September after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that he failed to return about $750,000 in contributions he received for the 201o Republican gubernatorial runoff and general election.
Oxendine never got a chance to run in those elections because he finished fourth in the GOP primary.
After questions were raised by the AJC, Oxendine filed an amended disclosure report showing the campaign had $500,000 left in the bank five years after he lost the 2010 primary. The ethics commission complaint says Oxendine improperly spent more than $208,000 raised for the runoff and general election.
The amended complaint also said Oxendine accepted contributions above the legal limits — $6,100 per election for most of that period — from about 20 donors. Most of the donations were made for the primary election, during which Oxendine greatly outraised his opponents. While Oxendine led in most polls until shortly before the 2010 primary, he eventually faded and the election was won by Nathan Deal.
The new allegations were tacked onto an existing complaint against the former commissioner and two insurance companies that accused Oxendine of accepting $120,000 in illegal contributions from the insurers.
The case against the insurers, filed in 2009, was dismissed in 2014, largely because previous commission staffers had made so little progress on it. But more recent staffers have continued to work on the case against Oxendine that alleges he received the excess money, something Chalmers said isn’t against state law.
Ethics commission staffers said state law dictates that candidates who raises money for races they don’t run must refund it to contributors or, if refunding it isn’t possible, donate it to charity. Chalmers said that is a misreading of state law, and that it only applies to candidates who raise money for a race but never qualify to run it.
He said Oxendine’s campaign may have filed disclosure reports with “technical defects” that showed it accepted more than the legal limit for the primary campaign. In fact, some of the money was intended to be used for the runoff or general elections, Chalmers said.
But whether the money raised was too much, or Oxendine’s use of the money was illegal or not, Chalmers says the statute of limitations prevents the state from coming back more than five years after the election to file new complaints.
The lawyer was critical of the ethics commission staff, which he said got bank records for Oxendine, his campaign, his wife and his stepdaughter because it filed an overly broad subpoena for records.
He said the commission has “unfairly and improperly attempted to try this case in the media” and denied Oxendine his due process rights by delaying his original case more than six years.
Oxendine said after the new complaint was filed that the commission’s investigation into his 2010 campaign was a waste of taxpayer money.
“A bunch of government staffers brought wild and unsubstantiated claims against my campaign, ” he said in a statement. “After wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, they have refused to produce one shred of evidence or even allow the case to appear before a judge. If they never take the case to a judge, they never have the embarrassment of losing.
“In order to cover up and deflect from their previous acts of incompetence and wasteful government spending, they are now attempting to add new frivolous allegations in a case that has remained open for an unprecedented seven years without any evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever being presented on their part.”