Atlanta politicians owe $29K in unpaid fines to Ga. ethics commission

<p>Atlanta City Hall</p>
<p>Atlanta City Hall</p>

The Georgia ethics commission says that 62 Atlanta politicians owe a combined $29,325 in unpaid fines for not properly filing their campaign finance reports. The agency is about to send the list to the state Attorney General for civil collection.

Some of the fines date to 2015, and several candidates owe fines from multiple years.

Among the names are four current Atlanta City Council members, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, former council president and mayoral candidate Ceasar Mitchell, and former mayoral candidate Mary Norwood. Each of those seven campaigns owe relatively small amounts, with Councilman Michael Julian Bond topping the list at $750.

“We are working to collect those fines owed at this time, but we are nearing the point of referring all outstanding cases to a Special Assistant Attorney General to file suit and enforce these fines in Superior Court,” said David H. Emadi, the commission’s executive director.

Under state law, political candidates must publicly disclose the identity of their donors and how much they gave. The intent is to allow voters to learn about the financial interests backing a campaign.

But some candidates routinely file their disclosures late and rack up fines.

In 2016, Bond faced 300 civil charges of violating state campaign finance laws and a fine of $58,000. He plead guilty and agreed to a $15,000 settlement.

Bond said his accountant handles his reports and he wasn’t aware of the $750 in unpaid fines for failing to file campaign finance reports, or filing them late.

“I have called the commission today to see if I owe any funds. I am waiting for a return call or email,” Bond told Channel 2 Action News. “If I do owe those fines I will try to have them paid by the end of the month.”

Overall, fine amounts range from $125 to $5,625. The commission says the largest fine is owed by former Atlanta City Council candidate Kwame Abernathy, for failing to file several campaign financial disclosure reports.

Most officials and former candidates contacted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said they didn’t know they owed a fine to the commission, whose formal title is the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

City Councilman Matt Westmoreland was fined $125 for filing his July, 2018 personal financial disclosure report a day late.

“I did not know this,” Westmoreland said, adding that he would pay the fine as soon as he could. Ten minutes later, he texted a picture of the receipt.

Councilwoman Jennifer Ide said she also didn’t realize she owed money. According to the list provided by the commission, Ide didn’t file a campaign disclosure report. But Ide said city records show that she filed the report within the five-business-day grace period.

“As far as I know, I’ve not heard anything from them,” Ide said.

Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd she didn’t know she owed a $125 fine for filing a disclosure late in 2016, but she would look into the matter.

A spokeswoman for Reed didn’t return an email about the former mayor’s $250 fine for failing to file two reports.

The ethics commission released the list in response to an AJC public records request, following separate allegations that the commission made earlier in the week against the two candidates in the 2017 mayoral runoff.

The commission is alleging that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s campaign received more than $380,000 in contributions that exceeded limits spelled out in state law. The campaign of Mary Norwood, Bottom’s opponent in the 2017 runoff election, is alleged to have received nearly $170,000 in impermissible contributions. Those allegations could result in fines being levied against the campaigns.

According to the list, Norwood owes $250 for failing to filing one disclosure report and filing another late and Bottoms does not owe any outstanding fines.

“If I would have gotten notified, I would have paid it immediately,” Norwood said. “I had no knowledge that was levied against me, nor correspondence to that effect.”

Former 2017 mayoral candidates Michael Sterling ($500 fine) and Mitchell ($375) are also listed as having unpaid fines.

Despite several candidates assertions that the commission hadn’t notified, Emadi said that attempts were made.

“As part of this effort, we have called, emailed, and sent postal correspondence to the addresses and numbers they have registered on file with the Commission,” he said.

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