Originally created 07/30/05

Ethics investigation to continue



ATLANTA - The State Ethics Commission decided Friday to press on with an examination of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine's campaign spending after finding "reasonable grounds" to believe he violated ethics laws.

In response to complaints filed by ethics gadfly George Anderson, the panel decided to take a closer look at allegations that Mr. Oxendine didn't provide enough information on people giving money to his campaigns for insurance commissioner and might have wrongly used campaign funds for personal purposes.

The agency is also investigating a $5,500 contribution from Mr. 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-blown hearing on the matter at a later meeting.

Mr. Oxendine's attorney, Stefan Passantino, said the commissioner admitted making a mistake by moving the money but isn't willing to settle that charge if it means agreeing on the other charges.

Teddy Lee, the ethics commission's executive secretary, said campaign spending totaling as much as $40,000 is "questionable" because Mr. Oxendine didn't adequately detail what it was spent on.

"You can't even determine on their face if (Mr. Anderson is) right about this being for personal purposes," Mr. Lee said. But Mr. Lee pointed out that also meant it is difficult to determine whether the funds were properly used.

Among the suspicious spending is thousands of dollars for meals. While candidates can spend money for meals if they are related to running for office, Mr. Lee said the amount spent warranted a second look and that Mr. Oxendine should give more detail about the meals.

Mr. Passantino said there is little space to describe the expenditures on the forms candidates must submit to the commission, adding that nothing proves Mr. Oxendine had done anything wrong.

"There is no evidence here that in fact any of these expenditures are not lawful expenditures," he said.

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 noncash 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.