Originally created 08/25/06

Complaint fails to rouse ethics panel



ATLANTA - Mark Taylor isn't getting any special scolding from the State Ethics Commission, which declined Thursday to speed up consideration of a complaint against his campaign.

Republicans filed a formal complaint last week alleging that the Democratic gubernatorial nominee improperly accepted $35,000 too much from one donor for his primary campaign. On Monday, the GOP sent a letter to the commission asking that it take the extraordinary step of immediately ordering Mr. Taylor not to spend the funds, even though the primary ended Aug. 8.

Chairman Jack Williams announced that he didn't want to bypass regular procedures on the basis of a letter.

"At this point in time, by letter, this matter is simply not ripe for this commission to consider at this time," he said.

But Mr. Williams said the person who filed the actual complaint, Republican Party Political Director Marty Klein, could file a motion for rush consideration. So, by the end of the day, that was done by Mr. Klein's lawyer, former commission member Robert Highsmith.

It's unusual for the commission to act on a complaint during a campaign. There is such a backlog of cases that it had typically taken 18 months for a complaint to be ruled on by the panel.

The recent addition of four investigators has trimmed the backlog to 12 months.

Democrats say the complaint against Mr. Taylor is merely a Republican ploy to deflect attention from news reports that Gov. Sonny Perdue got a sweetheart deal on land near Walt Disney World in Florida that he bought at a discount from a Newnan, Ga., developer, Stanley Thomas. Mr. Perdue had appointed Mr. Thomas to the board of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. They also charge that Mr. Perdue secretly pushed through legislation that saved him more than $100,000 in state taxes on the transaction.

With the new motion, the Taylor complaint could come before the commission at its September meeting, once his lawyers have a chance to respond.

As an example of the lag time in complaints, the commission issued fines in two cases stemming from campaigns as far back as 1998.

Former Sen. Dan Lee, R-LaGrange, agreed to pay an $800 fine for leaving out details on eight of his required reports on campaign finances, such as omitting the dates of 25 contributions in 1998.

Rep. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, also agreed to a fine of $1,000, which amounts to $100 for each of 10 incorrectly filed reports.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.