ATLANTA - Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker is asking Gov. Zell Miller to appoint a special counsel to prosecute ethics charges against his predecessor, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Michael Bowers.
A complaint that Mr. Bowers, who served as the state's attorney general for 16 years, failed to disclose campaign contributions is scheduled to be heard by the State Ethics Commission Aug. 14.
The commission voted in June to open a formal investigation into the handling of Mr. Bowers' campaign funds.
Mr. Bowers has acknowledged not reporting contributions during his 1994 re-election campaign, including several from the powerful King & Spalding law firm. But he called the omissions an "administrative error."
Usually, the state Attorney General's Office prosecutes cases before the Ethics Commission.
But in a letter Friday to the governor, Mr. Baker wrote, "Given Mr. Bowers' previous service as attorney general and in the interests of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety, I believe it would be inappropriate for this office to undertake this prosecution."
In an interview, Mr. Baker called his decision "a no-brainer."
"Any time we've got a conflict or the appearance of conflict, we try to farm the matter out. In this case, there is a problem that Mike was here and all the attorneys worked for him," Mr. Baker said.
Rome, Ga., businessman George Anderson, who filed the complaint against Mr. Bowers, was pleased with Mr. Baker's request.
"It doesn't matter if (Mr. Bowers) is the former attorney general or not, he's still got friends in that office. That office hasn't been investigated in 30 years," he said.
Bill Crane, spokesman for Mr. Bowers' gubernatorial campaign, said considering his candidate's recently ended tenure as attorney general, it's not surprising Mr. Baker would want an outsider to handle the case.
Mr. Bowers resigned in May to run for governor, but his bid has been shaken by his admission of marital infidelity and ethics violations.
He filed a campaign report amendment in June disclosing an additional 36 contributors who gave $13,000 in 1994 - including 16 checks linked to King & Spalding, where former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell is a partner.
Mr. Bowers is in the process of filing amendments to his reports disclosing how he spent about $32,000 in reimbursements and $12,000 on a campaign American Express card.
Mr. Anderson also has asked Mr. Baker to investigate whether Mr. Bowers played favorites with King & Spalding during his tenure as attorney general.
Mr. Anderson said more than 70 King & Spalding lawyers have given to Mr. Bowers' campaigns over the years.
He noted Mr. Bowers was appointed attorney general by then-Gov. George Busbee, who went to work for the firm after leaving office. Two other Department of Law employees who served under Mr. Bowers, Patricia Barmeyer and Anne Bradford Lee Davis, also took jobs with King & Spalding, the Rome businessman said.
However, at this point, Mr. Baker said, he doesn't see the need for such a probe.
"I don't know where that kind of inquiry would go," he said.