Oxendine could face new allegations from Georgia ethics commission

State ethics officials may file new allegations against former insurance commissioner and gubernatorial candidate John Oxendine in the coming months over his decision to “invest” $237,000 in leftover campaign money in his law firm.

The ethics commission is still working through earlier complaints alleging that Oxendine, a one-time front-runner in the 2010 race for governor, took illegal contributions and spent money raised for races he never ran, rather than returning it to donors.

That's partly because the earlier case remains tied up in court as Oxendine's lawyer, Douglas Chalmers, seeks to have the charges thrown out. A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled in June that the case against Oxendine could go forward, but Chalmers has appealed that decision to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which is scheduled to hear arguments in January.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Chalmers agreed to provide the commission with records showing that Oxendine “invested” leftover campaign money in his law firm in 2013 and 2014 and returned the “investment” with interest. Commission staffers subpoenaed records from the campaign’s bank account and Oxendine’s law firm in June.

Chalmers said it’s legal for campaigns to invest campaign funds. Commission staffers question whether it amounts to a candidate raising campaign money and then using it for personal gain — to help his personal business — which could raise legal issues.

“After getting this (bank record) we will see if there are additional allegations,” said Robert Lane, a staff lawyer for the commission. “The issue that we have is, did Mr. Oxendine use these funds for personal gain?

“Did he use it to subsidize his law firm? Did he use it to subsidize his lifestyle?”

Questions about Oxendine campaign’s payments to his law firm came up last fall after the ethics commission rekindled a seven-year-old case against the former candidate and longtime state official.

The initial complaint against Oxendine, filed in 2009, accused two insurance companies of funneling $120,000 in illegal contributions to his gubernatorial campaign.

The commission filed an amended complaint against Oxendine following a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that said he held onto more than $500,000 in contributions for his 2010 campaign and spent money raised for the gubernatorial runoffs and general election. Oxendine was beaten in the GOP primary, so he never ran in the runoff or general election.

Commission officials say state law mandates that the leftover money be returned to donors or given to charity. Oxendine says he can use it for legal fees, contributions to other political candidates and other purposes.

Following the AJC report, in September 2015, ethics commission staffers filed an amended complaint against Oxendine accusing him of improperly spending more than $208,000 raised for the runoff and general elections and accepting more than the legal limit in contributions from 19 donors.

About a month later, Oxendine released new campaign reports, disclosing for the first time the $237,000 “investment” in his law firm.

The commission dismissed many of the charges in December after Chalmers argued that the statute of limitations had run out on charges involving the 2010 campaign.

But the commission kept alive the allegations that he took illegal contributions from the insurance companies and spent money raised for races he never ran, rather than returning it to donors.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk rejected Oxendine's bid to have the remaining charges thrown out, saying that the ethics commission should be able to adjudicate Oxendine's case before the former longtime Georgia politician can fight the issue in court.

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