Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond faces 300 civil charges of violating state campaign finance laws – and a whopping $58,000 fine if found guilty.
The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission Thursday found probable cause that Bond committed the violations, which involve failing to report campaign expenses and contributions, among other charges.
Bond quibbled about some details but admitted to the commission he committed the violations. He said health problems that have significantly affected his eyesight for a decade made it difficult for him to file accurate reports. He asked for the fine to be substantially reduced – a reduction that’s likely to happen by September.
“I am frankly embarrassed to have come to this point in my public service,” Bond told commissioners.
It’s not Bonds’ first run-in with violating government rules. Last year he agreed to pay $15,000 to settle more than a dozen violations of the city’s ethics code on spending and accepting gifts.
The violations include 252 instances of failing to report campaign expenses. The rest involve spending campaign money on non-campaign expenses – including auto insurance and personal phone bills – as well as filing campaign and personal financial disclosure reports late or not at all.
The violations stretched from 2009 to 2015. Commission attorney Bethany Whetzel said the parties had reached a settlement agreement on violations from 2009 years ago, but the agency’s own staff turnover and other problems meant the agreement was never approved by the commission.
An investigation later uncovered other violations. Now the agency is trying to address a backlog of complaints, and Bonds’ is one of the biggest.
Executive Director Stefan Ritter told commissioners the proposed $58,000 civil penalty is “extraordinarily below what this commission could fine” based on the number of violations.
“We’re not overreaching on this,” Ritter said. “It’s a very conservative proposal. I realize it’s a lot of money.”
Nonetheless, the fine is likely to be reduced. Bond said the proposed fine is more money than he makes in a year, after taxes. He asked for a reduction, and cited his health problems, which he said embarrassed him.
“You have to be big enough to put your price down and ask for help,” Bond told commissioners. “I’m here today because I didn’t ask for that help.”
Commissioners directed the staff to negotiate a settlement by their next meeting in September. If no settlement can be reached, Bonds case would go to the Attorney General’s Office for an administrative hearing.
Chairman Lawton Jordan called the long list of alleged violations “egregious.”
“I’m sorry about your medical condition,” Jordan said. “But this is a blatant violation of the law. Maybe you should ask yourself if you should be in office.”
Bond agreed, but said he had “looked into his heart” and wanted to continue his public service.