Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren has entered into a consent order with the state in which he admits to violating campaign finance law.
According to the order adopted Thursday by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, Warren misused campaign funds, failed to disclose in-kind contributions and had Sheriff’s Office staff working on his reelection campaign during county business hours.
The sheriff, who is running for a fifth term this year, agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and attend campaign finance training.
Warren’s fine is among the highest ever levied against a candidate by the commission.
“We feel this is a fair and appropriate fine that clearly addresses the importance of elected officials not utilizing their public office to benefit their campaign at any time whatsoever,” said David Emadi, executive director of the commission.
Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond was fined $45,000 in 2016, and at least two political action committees have been fined more.
The violations laid out in the order confirm earlier reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that highlighted irregularities in Warren’s campaign finances and his use of county resources to aid his campaign.
The AJC found thousands of dollars in unattributed petty cash flowing in and out of the campaign, as well as questionable payments to the sheriff’s command staff and others.
The event, which is billed as a joint fundraiser with the Cobb Youth Museum, used the children’s charity to solicit thousands of dollars for Warren’s reelection effort.
Last year, neither he nor his campaign contributed anything directly to the non-profit museum.
Warren’s attorney, Doug Chalmers, previously told the AJC that the sheriff has committed to raising at least $10,000 a year for the museum from third party donors, and that the sheriff only contributes to make up the difference if that fundraising effort falls short.
At Thursday’s hearing, Emadi said employees wrote emails, arranged promotional photo shoots, picked up food and ran other campaign errands while on duty.
Warren’s attorney said employees had become “confused about what they could and could not do during office hours,” due to the “hybrid nature” of the Corn Boilin’, which started under the previous sheriff and has been held in some form for three decades.
“Only two of those emails were from the sheriff personally; the vast majority were from staff,” Chalmers said. “The sheriff has decided to accept responsibility for all of that.”
He said Sheriff’s Office employees would participate in training provided by the ethics commission to ensure no repeat violations.
The penalties come as Warren heads into what is likely to be his most competitive race to date, with Cobb emerging as a key partisan battleground in 2020.
Warren, a Republican, is likely to face Democratic challenger Craig Owens, a major with the Cobb Police Department, who appeared to narrowly avoid a runoff for the nomination, according to the most recent unofficial results Thursday.
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