Last week I filed ethics complaints with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (state ethics commission) against gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams (D) and Casey Cagle (R). Here’s an update:
I am filing a second complaint against Abrams today for using campaign funds and resources to promote sales of her newly released book. This is illegal because candidates are not allowed to personally benefit from campaign funds. Abrams has been paid by her publisher already for the book, and I’m sure she profits from its sales. It would be okay if the campaign received all proceeds from the book, but that’s not the case. The profits from the book go into Abrams pocket, which is what I fear happened with the $84k that is unaccounted for (and the subject of my first complaint against her).
And speaking of the first complaint, she has made non-sensical responses when asked about disclosing how the $84,000+ was spent.
From WSBTV’s story:
Abrams Campaign: “We welcome any opportunity to improve transparency and provide voters with the information they need…”
My response: What?!? How does that address the unaccounted for $84k? Did they understand what’s in question??
From a debate in Columbus, Georgia:
Question: Rep. Abrams, the activist group Georgia Ethics Watchdogs is questioning nearly $84,000 reimbursed to you from campaign accounts, saying records don’t adequately show what the payments were for. Can you tell us specifically what those expenses were and why they were not explained in detail when they were submitted?
Abrams: We complied very much so with all of the record-keeping that we were required to do. But if there is any discrepancy and any question, we will certainly provide additional information. I will tell you that when I became Minority Leader…. (she goes on to make questionable claims about her role as minority leader that had nothing to do with answering the question).
My response: a) she did not comply “very much”, if she had, there would have been no complaint to file, and b) when will she provide additional information? She’s had year’s to correct the filings!
Additionally, the day after my first complaint was filed, the Abrams campaign filed a frivolous complaint against her Democratic opponent Stacey Evans, claiming Evans was coordinating with a PAC that had been formed to help her campaign. I say frivolous not only because the complaint is ridiculous, but under Georgia law, the ethics commission can force Abrams to pay Evans’ attorney’s fees if the commission deems the complaint as frivolous. As soon as I saw the complaint, I felt it was bogus, so I asked the Evans campaign about it. They actually answered my questions directly, rather than giving Abrams-ish responses. Abrams’ complaint against Evans is based on an email sent by a former employee named Josh White. White was not working for Evans at the time of his email or when the PAC was formed. The Evans campaign said “Josh White worked for the campaign in 2017, and according to payroll records, he left the campaign on 12/15/17. Mr. White has not served as an agent of Evans for Georgia in any capacity since then. If you would like the payroll documentation verifying this we are happy to verify.” For me, cased closed – Abrams filed a frivolous complaint and will likely have to pay Evans attorney’s fees for defending it.
His campaign’s response to my complaint alleging he accepted campaign donations from a state agency by using a state plane to travel to a campaign event in November 2016 in Savannah was – “the silly season has begun”. They claimed the trip was for official state business because he was speaking to a group that invited him to their event, despite the fact that there was no record on social media (he consistently posts about his public events, and not many politicians of his calibre would give a speech in a place like Savannah and not boast about it) or could information about the speech be found anywhere else.
On the trip in question, Cagle did attend a fundraiser in which he was the marquee guest that raised $218,000 for a PAC that is supporting his bid for governor.
As I said the day I filed the complaint, if it turns out he can prove he was on official state business, I will withdraw the complaint. Unfortunately nothing in Georgia law that I am aware of prevents a public official from participating in such a fundraiser while on a taxpayer funded trip. However, when applying common sense, if someone attends such an event and taxpayer money funded their trip that got them there, wouldn’t an honest, decent candidate who doesn’t abuse taxpayer dollars make sure the campaign that raised $218,000 that day at least split the cost with the taxpayers?
So if Cagle proves he was on public business when he flew from Atlanta to Gainesville to pick up his wife, then flew from Gainesville to Savannah for the official state business, followed by the fundraiser, then I will withdraw the complaint while still asking him to reimburse the taxpayers for at least half the trip, because you know — its the right thing to do!
You would think that proving he was on state business would be an easy task. In fact, if it were me, I would have released proof the day the complaint was filed. But Team Cagle didn’t. So, the day after the complaint, I filed an open records request for “a copy of any documentation that shows the schedule of official state business Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle participated in on November 10 and 11, 2016, including but not limited to his or staff members’ public calendar, invitation letters or other forms of invitations to participate in any events or meetings related to his service as Lt. Governor.”
Seems like a very easy request to fulfill, right? Well not for Team Cagle. As of the minute of this posting, I have not received the documents, or even a response providing an update on my request. By the way, that violates the Open Records Act which requires a response within three days.
So for me, that begs the question – how can people trust Casey Cagle as their governor if his office can’t comply with such an easily provable request?