Oxendine ethics case over? Not so fast, says Georgia ethics commission

The state ethics commission will pursue a case involving allegations that former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine illegally used campaign donations for a down payment on a home, fancy cars and child care expenses. But the commission dismissed another complaint against Oxendine, once a GOP front-runner for governor.

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The state ethics commission will pursue a case involving allegations that former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine illegally used campaign donations for a down payment on a home, fancy cars and child care expenses. But the commission dismissed another complaint against Oxendine, once a GOP front-runner for governor.

The state ethics commission on Monday rejected a judge’s ruling that would have ended its more than decade-long battle with former Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who is accused of illegally using campaign donations for a down payment on a home, fancy cars and child care expenses.

The commission decided to move ahead with the allegations against Oxendine, a onetime Republican gubernatorial front-runner.

But it accepted the judge’s decision to throw out a complaint that Oxendine accepted $120,000 in bundled contributions — 10 times the legal limit at the time — from two Georgia insurance companies in 2008 when he was running for governor.

Administration Law Judge Ronit Walker said in the fall that state law passed by the General Assembly to cap contributions to candidates only speaks to penalties for donors when they bundle contributions, not the recipient of the money.

Walker had ruled in favor of Oxendine on all the remaining ethics cases against him, but, under state law, the commission could accept or reject her decision. In the case of Oxendine’s use of campaign money, the commission decided it will hold a hearing and make a decision whether he violated the law, and if so, what the penalty should be.

Oxendine has called the cases a “waste of taxpayer money,” and his lawyer, Doug Chalmers, told the commission, “This has been a moving target from day one.”

David Emadi, the commission’s executive secretary, said: “The bottom line is John Oxendine took campaign money and used it to pay the down payment on his house, pay for membership dues at a private country club, and pay for the lease on his vehicle among other things.

“I’m grateful the commission rejected Mr. Oxendine’s procedural excuses and have allowed this to go forward for a final hearing and trial on those actions once and for all.”

Following an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report, a complaint was filed in 2009 against Oxendine’s gubernatorial campaign over the bundled contributions.

The ethics complaint against the insurers accused of giving the money to Oxendine was dismissed in 2014 because the ethics commission’s staff had made so little progress on it, in part because of staff turnover and seemingly endless drama at the agency at that time. But the commission didn’t dismiss charges against Oxendine, the recipient of the donations.

The case remained largely dormant until another AJC investigation reported in 2015 that Oxendine never returned more than $500,000 worth of leftover contributions from his gubernatorial bid, and that he kept and spent money raised for Republican runoff and general election campaigns that he never ran because he lost in the 2010 GOP primary.

Oxendine amended his reports in October 2015 to show more than $700,000 left over, including $237,000 in loans to his law firm.

Following the AJC report, ethics commission staffers filed an amended complaint in 2015, 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.

The commission dismissed many of the new charges that December, after Chalmers argued that the statute of limitations had run out on charges involving the 2010 campaign. In other words, it had taken the commission too long to investigate and prosecute the cases.

But the commission in 2019 moved ahead on allegations that Oxendine spent campaign donations on luxury car leases, child care bills, an athletic club membership and a down payment on a $965,000 house. Under Georgia law, a candidate can’t collect contributions for a campaign and then use the money for things such as houses and cars for themselves.

The commission also voted to move ahead with the complaint on the bundled contributions.

Oxendine has spent most of the money that was left over in the 2010 gubernatorial account without returning it to donors or donating it to charity, two of the ways the law says he could dispose of the money. His end-of-2020 report showed $254,000 remained. He had spent about $200,000 of the leftover money with Chalmers’ firm on legal fees and expenses, as of the end of 2020.

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