Former Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood agrees to pay $27,000 ethics fine

Ethics commission executive director says inquiry into Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' campaign is heading toward litigation
Mary Norwood concedes defeat in Atlanta mayoral race

Mary Norwood concedes defeat in Atlanta mayoral race

Mary Norwood, a former Atlanta city councilwoman who narrowly lost to Keisha Lance Bottoms in the 2017 mayor’s race, has admitted to accepting $80,750 in improper campaign contributions, according to a consent order unanimously approved Thursday by the Georgia ethics commission.

Norwood, who now chairs the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, agreed to pay a $27,000 fine and told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she did so with a personal check.

She characterized the violations as “minor bookkeeping errors.”

In December, the Georgia ethics commission alleged that Norwood, who lost to Bottoms by less than 1,000 votes, accepted $168,975 in improper contributions because they exceeded the maximum amounts that individuals are allowed to contribute under state law. The commission also alleged that Bottoms had accepted $382,773 in similarly improper contributions.

The commission — whose former name is the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission — had launched investigations into both campaigns.

While Norwood’s payment settles the inquiry into her campaign, ethics commission Executive Director David H. Emadi sounded less than hopeful about reaching an agreement with Bottoms.

“The investigation into the alleged campaign finance violations by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ campaign remains ongoing,” Emadi said in an email Thursday. “I fully anticipate that case will move forward in the litigation process.”

A spokesman for Bottoms didn’t immediately answer questions about the investigation.

Charlie Stadtlander, a former Norwood campaign worker who defected to Bottoms’ campaign after allegedly witnessing the Norwood campaign’s violations, filed the original ethics complaint against Norwood.

The complaint featured 11 allegations, including failure to properly itemize expenses, failure to disclose in-kind contributions and creating shell companies to disguise payments to certain individuals.

According to Thursday’s consent order, the commission found that $58,300 of the improper contributions were due to an accounting error and the other $22,450 in violations were due to contributions from individuals who gave above the maximum limits allowed by law.

Norwood’s campaign raised roughly $2 million.

“Any and all other allegations raised against Respondent by Complainant are deemed to be un-actionable or unfounded or otherwise permissible,” according to the order.

In a statement, Norwood said she was pleased with the commission’s findings.

“This is complete exoneration,” she wrote.

But Jake Evans, chairman of the ethics commission, said it was a relatively large fine.

“She had a number of different violations that spanned the course of multiple years and also (exceeded) maximum contribution limitations,” he said. “In light of that, I think it was a fair amount.”

Stadtlander, a senior advisor to the Bottoms’ campaign, filed an ethics complaint against Norwood on Dec. 4 — a day before the 2017 runoff between Bottoms and Norwood.

“People who have been completely exonerated ... don’t pay $27,000 fines and sign consent orders admitting to multiple illegal actions,” he said. “Her entire platform was that she was going to restore ethics, integrity and transparency to the city of Atlanta.”

Political consultant Rick Thompson was one of the five ethics board members to vote in favor of Norwood’s fine. Thompson’s company is paid by the Bottoms’ campaign to help prepare its’ finance reports.

Thompson said he didn’t recuse himself from the vote because he didn’t work for Bottoms’ campaign in 2017 and there was no dispute over Norwood’s agreement.