Deputy chief, eight others finalists to lead Georgia ethics agency

Former ethics commission executive secretary Stefan Ritter. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Former ethics commission executive secretary Stefan Ritter. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Nine finalists have been named as potential replacements for Stefan Ritter, who resigned last month as director of the state ethics commission after complaints were filed saying he watched pornography at work and told staffers to sit on potential campaign finance violations of city hall and gubernatorial candidates.

Among the finalists is a Ritter deputy who filed one of the complaints that led to his downfall, a Georgia Republican Party activist, prosecutors and the director of a similar agency in Massachusetts.

The list was released by ethics commission Chairman Jake Evans on Thursday. Close to 50 people applied, Evans said.

The agency, formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission, is charged with collecting campaign finance, vendor gift and lobbying expenditure reports; registering lobbyists; issuing advisory opinions; and dispensing penalties for violations.

Ritter resigned in the midst of an investigation into the complaints. He was awarded three months' salary, about $45,000.

He had run the agency since 2015 and was credited with helping reduce its massive backlog of cases following a period of scandal.

The complaints, from three staffers, listed a series of problems over the past year. A staffer said she found hundreds of pornographic images on his computer. Other staffers said they saw him viewing porn in the office.

In addition, both chief lawyers in the office said the commission staff found that during campaign report audits, possible violations were found against multiple mayoral candidates in the 2017 race. Instead of filing complaints, they said, Ritter told them to let the candidates correct the errors.

Among those who filed a complaint was Robert Lane, deputy executive secretary of the commission, and he is a finalist to replace Ritter.

Another finalist is Jennifer McNeely, a staff attorney with the Georgia Court of Appeals. She was an alternate delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention. She and her husband, Republican activist Michael McNeely, have contributed about $13,000 to the state GOP in the past decade, and Michael McNeely donated to Gov. Brian Kemp’s campaign last fall after previously backing his Republican rival, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, in the governor’s race.

Jennifer McNeely also worked in the past with Doug Chalmers, a campaign finance law expert who frequently defends clients before the ethics commission.

Matthew Krull, a former solicitor general in Douglas County and a member of the state Board of Education who also gave to Kemp’s campaign, is a finalist as well, as is Judd Drake, the county attorney in Macon Bibb-County; David Emadi, the chief assistant district attorney in Douglas County; James Knox, the general counsel and chief ethics officer in the Georgia Department of Community Supervision; Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Lawson; and Mark Wortham, a partner in Hall Booth Smith who was also a Kemp donor.

Michael Sullivan, the director of the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, also is a finalist.

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