State ethics commission director: Atlanta mayor’s campaign refuses to comply with subpoena

Keisha Lance Bottoms, left, and Mary Norwood during the WSB-TV Atlanta mayoral debate on December 3, 2017, in Atlanta. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Keisha Lance Bottoms, left, and Mary Norwood during the WSB-TV Atlanta mayoral debate on December 3, 2017, in Atlanta. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

The executive director of the state ethics commission says Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has refused to cooperate with an investigation into her campaign finances — an allegation the Bottoms’ campaign disputes.

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.

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

“We have not received campaign bank records from the Bottoms campaign, which were subpoena’d, despite her public statements that she would provide all documents and be fully transparent,” ethics commission Executive Director David H. Emadi said in an email to Channel 2 Action News.

The ethics commission — whose formal name is the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission — has scheduled a probable cause hearing for Sept. 24.

If the commission finds reason to believe that Bottoms’ campaign violated the law, it will forward the case to the Georgia State Office of Administrative Hearings, where a judge could fine the campaign or negotiate a compromise.

Then the ruling would go back to the ethics commission for final approval.

A spokesperson for the Bottoms’ campaign said Emadi was being “blatantly untruthful.”

“It is unfortunate that the State’s Ethics Officer is being blatantly untruthful regarding this matter,” the spokesperson told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution on Tuesday. “This matter will be addressed in accordance with the law and not based upon the unlawful demands of an untruthful and over zealous prosecutor.”

The spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for him to identify what made the commissions’ demands unlawful.

Emadi cited portions of Georgia law that give the commission the right to inspect “accounts kept by the candidate or treasurer of a campaign committee” and to “issue subpoenas to compel any person to appear, give sworn testimony, or produce documentary or other evidence.”

Emadi, a former Republican activist, has been criticized for allegedly targeting Democratic organizations. He has also donated to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who sued the mayor over a mask mandate in the city. Kemp eventually dropped the suit.

Last month, Mary Norwood, a former Atlanta city councilwoman who narrowly lost to Bottoms in the 2017 mayoral runoff, 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.

The commission initially alleged Norwood, who now chairs the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, accepted $168,975 in inappropriate contributions. Norwood told the AJC she turned over all her campaign financial records to the commission.

The ethics commission does not name the donors whose contributions exceeded the limits — which in 2017 were $2,600 for a general election and $1,400 for a runoff.

In his email to Channel 2, Emadi said that allegations against Bottoms were based on an audit of her own campaign finance filings, and that it is frequently to a campaign’s advantage to turn over its records.

“Often times those records can help us clear up which initial allegations were really just poor book keeping and duplicate entries and which were substantive,” Emadi wrote. “But since they continue to refuse to comply with us in any meaningful way, we are moving forward with the case.”

Bottoms has spent much of the year campaigning for Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and at one point was considered as his potential running mate.

Political consultant Rick Thompson, whose company is paid to help prepare Bottoms campaign reports, is one of the five ethics board members who voted last month to approve Norwood’s fine.

Thompson cited that fact and that there was no dispute about Norwood’s consent order and that he did not work for Bottoms campaign during the 2017 election as reasons why he wasn’t required to recuse himself from the vote that approved Norwood’s fine last month.