Gwinnett solicitor, DA, agree to fines for campaign violations

Gwinnett’s solicitor general, Brian Whiteside, takes phone call while leaving the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. (Photo by Phil Skinner) AJC FILE PHOTO

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Gwinnett’s solicitor general, Brian Whiteside, takes phone call while leaving the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. (Photo by Phil Skinner) AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett County’s solicitor and newly elected District Attorney agreed to pay penalties for campaign violations.

Solicitor Brian Whiteside will pay a $5,000 fine for not turning in campaign and other financial disclosure reports. D.A. Patsy Austin-Gatson will pay $2,500 after she and her husband, who both worked in the solicitor’s office when she was a candidate, campaigned on county time.

Each will pay the fines out of personal funds and not campaign funds.

The Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission last year accused Whiteside of failing to file required disclosures for more than two years. He was first elected in 2018.

“I was late,” Whiteside said Thursday, after the commission voted to accept a consent agreement than included the penalty. “I just can’t deny that, that’s the truth.”

The fine could have been as high as $12,000 for failing to submit disclosures on time.

David Emadi, the commission’s executive director, said last year that he came across the issue with Whiteside’s filings while investigating a complaint about other employees, including Ausin-Gatson and her husband.

That complaint, made by then-District Attorney Danny Porter, accused Austin-Gatson and Curtis Clemons, who was running for sheriff, of using county resources to create, edit, print and deliver campaign materials.

The commission said those charges were not being pursued because they were lawful or there was not enough evidence.

But they did find that Austin-Gatson attended an event at the Georgia Capitol, wearing a nametag that identified her as a candidate for D.A., during normal business hours for the county. She did not have any time off that day.

Austin-Gatson said the violation was “inadvertent” and that she thought she could just make up the time when she had been at the event outside normal work hours.

“I want to be done with it,” she said of accepting the consent order. “I want to focus on the work of the county.”

Austin-Gatson’s husband, Travis Gatson, was also part of the complaint. While he was working in the solicitor’s office, Gatson campaigned on his wife’s behalf by passing out cards in Hall County and talking up her campaign. The commission described him as “overzealous” in his support of his wife.

Austin-Gatson, who was first elected in November, is the county’s first Black and first female District Attorney. She and Whiteside are both Democrats.

The errors came because she was a first-time candidate, Austin-Gatson said.

“It’s somewhat of a lesson learned,” she said. “That kind of thing will never happen again.”

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