State ethics panel to continue probe into Atlanta mayor’s 2017 campaign

September 24, 2020 Atlanta - David Emadi, executive secretary, speaks during an ethics commission meeting on Thursday, September 24, 2020. No representative of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' mayoral campaign appeared at a state ethics commission hearing on Thursday that was supposed to determine if the commission should take charges that her 2017 mayoral bid violated campaign finance laws to an administrative judge. Nevertheless, the commission — whose formal name is the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission — agreed to continue the case until its next meeting on Dec. 10. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

State ethics officials on Thursday said they are moving forward with an investigation into whether Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' 2017 campaign illegally accepted more than $380,000 in contributions, even though her campaign has failed to turn over subpoenaed bank records.

Bottoms campaign has strongly denied the allegations and said that David H. Emadi, the commission’s executive director, was untruthful and an overzealous prosecutor.

A campaign spokesman didn’t respond to an AJC reporter’s email Thursday about the hearing.

Atlanta mayoral contenders Keisha Lance Bottoms (L) and Mary Norwood (R) speak at the WSB live debate Sunday In Atlanta GA November 03 2017. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Emadi said that rather than turning over the bank records, the campaign requested that the commission provide details on every single instance of a violation. The campaign would then review its records and confirm whether a violation had occurred, he said.

“At that point, I felt like talks had broken down,” Emadi said.

Emadi said the commission has done everything it can to help the campaign understand the specific financial violations it may be facing.

But it appears the matter is heading to court.

A hearing on Thursday was supposed to determine if the panel had reason to believe that Bottoms' campaign violated the law, and if so, it would have forwarded the case to the Georgia State Office of Administrative Hearings, where a judge could fine the campaign or negotiate a compromise.

The commission alleged in December that Bottoms' 2017 mayoral campaign accepted $382,773 in contributions from individuals that exceeded the maximum allowable under state law — allegations the campaign has denied.

Emadi said the commission spent six months negotiating with the campaign over bank records for which it had issued a subpoena.

Bottoms raised more than $2.7 million in a race that became one of the most expensive mayoral campaigns in the city’s history.

The commission agreed to continue the case until its next meeting on Dec. 10.

September 24, 2020 Atlanta - Joseph Cusack (right), senior staff attorney, speaks during an ethics commission meeting on Thursday, September 24, 2020. No representative of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' mayoral campaign appeared at a state ethics commission hearing on Thursday that was supposed to determine if the commission should take charges that her 2017 mayoral bid violated campaign finance laws to an administrative judge. Nevertheless, the commission — whose formal name is the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission — agreed to continue the case until its next meeting on Dec. 10. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Former Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, Bottoms' opponent in the 2017 runoff election, was also charged with accepting donations that surpassed the state limits. In August, Norwood, admitted to accepting $80,750 in improper campaign contributions.

Norwood, who raised more than $2.1 million during the race, paid a $27,000 fine to settle those charges — a penalty that ethics commission Chairman Jake Evans acknowledged was relatively steep.

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