Originally created 08/15/97

Bowers fined $3,600 for campaign violations



ATLANTA - Longtime good government champion and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Michael Bowers was fined $3,600 by the state Ethics Commission Thursday for failing to disclose contributions and fully detailing how he spent campaign money.

A consent agreement between Bowers and the commission ended an ethics case that has hounded the candidate since before he resigned as attorney general in May to run for governor.

Bowers indicated he was glad to be rid of the complaint.

"I can now fully focus on my campaign for Georgia's future and the issues of importance to the people of Georgia," he said in a prepared statement.

George Anderson, a Rome bookseller who brought the complaint against Bowers, said he was pleased with the fine.

"They could have just slapped him on the wrist. I don't think $3,600 is a slap on the wrist," Anderson said.

Bowers' campaign for governor has gotten off to a rocky start. Shortly after announcing his candidacy, he acknowledged a more than decade-long extramarital affair with a woman who had worked under him in the attorney general's office.

Two weeks later, Bowers admitted he failed to disclose 36 contributions worth $13,000 to his 1994 attorney general's re-election campaign - including 16 checks linked to the powerful King & Spalding law firm, where former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell is a partner.

Bowers also didn't itemize $44,000 in campaign funds used to pay off an American Express bill and reimburse himself for expenses.

The consent order discloses Bowers bought a $5,300 software program and a computer voter file worth nearly $16,000 with money from his attorney general's campaign account in 1995. Two months ago, the software program and some other equipment were transferred to his governor's campaign.

Officials said the voter list has not yet been used by governor's race campaign staffers.

Under state ethics law, candidates can't use money raised for one office to run for another.

Bowers' staffers said the governor's campaign will reimburse the attorney general's account for the software and equipment already used.

Les Schneider, a special assistant attorney general assigned to the case, told the Ethics Commission he found no evidence Bowers' violations were intentional.

However, Commissioner member Richard Yarborough said, "I just find this extraordinary sloppy record-keeping."

Bowers' lawyer, former Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Norman Underwood, said the candidate knew the violations "could not go unsanctioned."

But Underwood acknowledged afterward, "We felt a smaller penalty would be appropriate."

Bowers' press secretary, Bill Crane, said changes in the state ethics law may have led to the violations.

"We did go from three races without opposition to having opposition and changing parties (in 1994). The law was amended twice. His previous campaigns were Mom and Pop. That transition would be difficult for any small business," Crane said.

Bowers was directed to pay the fine without using campaign money. The $3,600 fine was one of the largest ever levied against a candidate or elected official.

A new high was set later Thursday when the panel fined state Rep. Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, $6,500 for improperly transferring campaign contributions to his personal account and for filing incomplete reports.