ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's 2010 race for governor ended Thursday, in a way. State ethics officials agreed to drop their campaign finance case against former state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who will hand over the $128,000 remaining in his campaign fund and admit no wrongdoing.
The deal ends a yearslong struggle over whether the Republican broke state law by using campaign funds to buy a house, lease luxury cars and join a private club.
Some members of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission expressed frustration that Oxendine didn't admit fault in the consent order, which the commission approved 4-1.
“I do feel somewhat frustrated that there is no admission of wrongdoing and we’re not even calling this a penalty,” said Commissioner Rick Thompson, who was previously the executive director of the ethics agency.
But Oxendine has resisted the commission investigation at every turn, fighting an attempt to subpoena his bank records for years and then contesting the commission's ability to pursue him, saying it had waited too long. Oxendine has most recently sued the commission in Fulton County Superior Court, trying to get the case thrown out.
Commission lawyer Robert Lane said the commission could have continued its pursuit, but said Oxendine could have spent the remaining campaign donations on litigation, leaving nothing for the state to recover. That could have left the state in the difficult situation of trying to pursue Oxendine's other assets in Florida, where commission Executive Director David Emadi said Oxendine now lives.
“When you weigh all those issues against each other, I think this is the best available option we have," Emadi said.
Oxendine didn't attend the hearing. His lawyer, Douglas Chalmers, told reporters that Oxendine “is happy that he’s finally able to put the 2010 gubernatorial election behind him.”
“Every single allegation that was asserted by the commission over the past 13 years has now been dismissed with no findings of any violations and no penalties,” Chalmers said.
Emadi, though, pointed to Oxendine's agreement to give up his remaining campaign money.
"The reality is you don’t cut a check for $128,000 to the government if you did nothing wrong," he told reporters after the hearing.
Commissioners earlier accepted a judge's decision that they couldn't pursue Oxendine for accepting $120,000 in bundled contributions — 10 times what was then the legal limit — from two Georgia insurance companies in 2008 when he was running for governor. The judge found penalties cover only donors, and not recipients.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2016 that Oxendine kept $500,000 in leftover money from his gubernatorial campaign, and kept contributions raised for a possible Republican runoff and general election that he never ran in after losing the Republican primary.
Oxendine filed new reports in October 2015 showing more than $700,000 left over, including $237,000 in loans to his law firm.
The ethics commission said Oxendine used part of those loans to make a $96,500 down payment on a house. The rest went to lease a Mercedes and Jaguar, retirement account contributions and athletic club dues, officials said.
It's illegal in Georgia for a candidate to use campaign contributions for personal expenses unrelated to a campaign. Chalmers argued in 2019 that loans are permitted. State law says Oxendine could have given leftover campaign money back to donors, to charity or to other candidates.
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