Georgia ethics panel gives director a $15K raise, his second hike this year

The state ethics commission on Thursday approved a $15,000 raise for its executive secretary, his second increase in less than six months.

The latest raise boosts David Emadi’s annual salary from $145,000 to $160,000 a year. That’s still below what the man he replaced, Stefan Ritter, was making when he was forced out in 2019 following allegations he watched pornography at work and sat on potential campaign finance cases.

Ritter was being paid $181,500 at the time.

Emadi, like other state employees, received a $5,000 raise approved by the General Assembly last spring as part of the midyear budget aimed at stabilizing extremely high turnover rates in some agencies.

State boards and commissions have the authority to set the salaries of their top executives, in addition to any raises approved by the General Assembly.

The ethics agency, formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, is charged with collecting reports on campaigns’ finances, vendor gifts and lobbying expenditures; registering lobbyists; issuing advisory opinions; and dispensing penalties for violations.

Emadi, a former Douglas County prosecutor, has set an aggressive tone at the commission, increasing audits and reviews of campaign finance reporting and pushing for greater transparency.

This year for the first time, for instance, statewide candidates such as those running for governor were forced to disclose more detailed reports about their sources of income under legislation Emadi pushed.

But his aggressive tactics have also brought criticism.

Shortly after taking office, Emadi and his staff began looking into whether 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams’ campaign illegally coordinated its efforts with nonprofits supporting her bid for governor. Georgia law prohibits independent groups from coordinating with candidates. Abrams is again the party’s nominee for governor this year.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported when the commission hired Emadi that he had been a campaign donor to Abrams’ opponent, Gov. Brian Kemp, so he was accused of partisanship. He quickly began issuing subpoenas seeking bank records and other documents from Abrams’ campaign and affiliated groups.

Many of the questions he raised came out of campaign report audits that commission staffers did well before he took office. Staffers had accused the previous executive director, Ritter, of sitting on the findings.

Abrams’ camp says it provided thousands of documents to the commission and that the panel continued to seek records that either didn’t exist or should have no bearing on its case.

One of the groups involved in the investigation, Gente4Abrams (People for Abrams), was fined $50,000 by the state ethics commission in 2020 for failing to report what it spent to help her win the Democratic primary in 2018.

The commission voted in August that there was probable cause to believe two other nonprofits raised and spent millions of dollars to aid Abrams’ unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial bid without disclosing it.

The groups are now suing the commission in federal court, saying it is using an unconstitutionally broad definition of a “campaign fund” to allege they raised $4 million and spent $3 million before the 2018 election and illegally failed to disclose it.