State official may face criminal probe over campaign violations

State Rep. Earnest G. Smith could face a criminal investigation for alleged violations of campaign finance and other laws.

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission Wednesday found probable cause that Smith, an Augusta Democrat, violated various state laws in his handling of campaign cash.

The commission’s staff recommended that possible violations be referred to the Attorney General’s Office for a criminal investigation. But commissioners postponed action on the recommendation, giving Smith more time to provide documents he says will show he did nothing criminal.

A commission investigation found Smith committed 88 violations of campaign finance laws. Among them: Smith allegedly failed to disclose property he owned on personal financial disclosure reports and failed to report $7,503 in campaign contributions and $25,297 in campaign expenditures since December 2010.

Commission attorney Robert Lane said $19,256 of the unreported expenditures were checks made out to “cash,” and Smith has provided no receipts showing how the money was spent. Lane said the Attorney General’s Office should investigate to determine whether Smith used the money for personal instead of campaign purposes – a move that would amount to theft.

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Smith told commissioners he can produce receipts that will show he spent the money on legitimate campaign expenses.

“At no time has there ever been a misappropriation of campaign funds,” he said. “I’ve never spent one nickel for my personal use.”

Commissioners voted 3-1 to find probable cause of violations but postponed action on a referral to the Attorney General until April.

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