A Republican attorney filed an ethics complaint Friday claiming a prominent Georgia tea party leader failed to register as a lobbyist and disclose most of her political advocacy work.
The complaint targets Debbie Dooley, a co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots who has attracted national attention for her advocacy for alternative energy initiatives.
The ethics charge, filed by Bryan Tyson, contends that Dooley’s work is often funded by “dark money” groups but that she’s tried to shield herself from the state’s reporting requirements because she often labels herself as a tea party activist.
Dooley said she filed the necessary paperwork and characterized the complaint as an attempt to silence her advocacy work, which includes outspoken opposition to the Plant Vogtle nuclear project.
“I very much welcome a full investigation to put the matter to rest once and for all and for folks to see how ridiculous and politically motivated the complaint is,” said Dooley.
“I don’t register as a lobbyist because you are not required to register your First Amendment rights,” she added. “If I am required to register as a lobbyist, then other citizen activists will as well.”
The complaint filed by Tyson, the former head of Georgia’s public defender council, accused Dooley of building a nationwide business as a “consultant for hire” while using her credentials as a conservative activists and tea party leader to shield herself from ethics requirements.
He wrote that she has significant financial incentive to avoid filing as a lobbyist: It “would significantly decrease the likelihood of her being quoted by the media as a citizen-activist or tea party leader” and also spurn some potential clients.
His filing cites about a dozen instances where she urges lawmakers or public officials to pass policies, including some where she acknowledged she had been paid for her work. It details one Twitter exchange where she accepted apparently acknowledged receiving funding from Tom Steyer, the billionaire Democratic financier.
And it said several of her organizations failed to register with state ethics officials, despite taking stances on candidates.
It highlights her opposition to a pair of Republican incumbent Public Service Commissioners – Chuck Eaton and Tricia Pridemore – who faced stiff opposition in November’s election. It said several groups affiliated with Dooley failed to register with the state ethics commission despite seeking contributions to defeat the two incumbents.
“With a publicly acknowledged budget of nearly six figures with the goal of influencing policy within the state of Georgia, Ms. Dooley has the resources and audience to create change,” read the complaint.
“Without proper registration and disclosure, Ms. Dooley and her organizations are able to effect this change unchecked and without disclosing information that Georgia citizens have a right to know.”