Originally created 11/09/99

Schrenko case gets under way



ATLANTA -- Georgia's Ethics Commission decided unanimously Monday to open a formal investigation of state school Superintendent Linda Schrenko, who is accused of accepting illegal contributions and filing faulty reports.

Democratic Party Chairman David Worley added to his complaint by providing commission members with documents he said show Mrs. Schrenko's campaign also failed to disclose accurately six corporate contributions worth $3,150.

"The idea is that citizens are supposed to know where these contributions are coming from," Mr. Worley said. "And they're not coming from Joe Jones. They're coming from some corporation. I think that's a very serious violation."

Mr. Worley and the Democratic Party have tried to use the complaints to raise questions about Mrs. Schrenko's competence. Mrs. Schrenko, a Republican, in 1994 became the first woman elected to a statewide office.

The Ethics Commission can levy fines of up to $1,000 per campaign violation.

The new complaints were added Monday to earlier reporting mistakes Mrs. Schrenko's husband and campaign treasurer, Frank Schrenko, had admitted to making.

Mr. Schrenko already has said his wife would reimburse a political action committee called The Phoenix Review $500 of the $1,500 it contributed to the superintendent's campaign war chest in 1995. The campaign limit was $1,000.

Mr. Schrenko said he also overestimated an in-kind contribution from Brentwood Publishing that, as listed, also was over the legal limit.

In another instance, Mr. Schrenko said, $1,250 in contributions from John White Jr. should have been listed as checks from Coca-Cola Co. and Coca-Cola Enterprises. Mr. Schrenko said Mr. White was his contact person for the Coca-Cola contributions.

Mr. Worley's newest complaints charge Mrs. Schrenko with failing to disclose corporate contributions in 1995.

In five of the six cases noted by Mr. Worley, individuals who work for or represent those companies were listed on Mrs. Schrenko's filings as having given checks to the superintendent's campaign.

Mr. Worley said that raises questions about whether the superintendent was trying to disguise corporate contributions.

"The Schrenko campaign had a practice of reporting corporate contributions in the name of individuals," he said.

However, the superintendent has said the complaints are another in a string of attempts to discredit her, coming from critics who want Gov. Roy Barnes and the General Assembly to remove authority for public education from her agency -- the Georgia Department of Education.

She has complained that Mr. Worley and the Democratic Party are harassing her by requesting reams of documents from the Department of Education.

Mrs. Schrenko said she told the Democratic Party it would cost the department $14,000 in staff time and copying to retrieve some documents it requested.

This is the second recent complaint against Mrs. Schrenko. The Ethics Commission dismissed a charge last year that she took excess contributions from three-time Republican statewide nominee Guy Millner and his family.

Reach James Salzer at (404) 589-8424.