(GA Recorder) — A former Georgia Republican candidate for governor accused of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions for his personal indulgences agreed Thursday to a six-figure settlement with the State Ethics Commission,
Ex-Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine agreed to pay the state $128,000 in leftover campaign donations without admitting guilt to converting the funds to live the lifestyle of the rich and politically connected.
Oxendine was accused of taking $237,000 from his 2010 campaign to make a down payment on a $1 million home, pay for tuition at a private day school for his child, to cover private club memberships, make payments on a Mercedes, and other personal expenses.
The remaining $128,000 will be deposited into the state treasury despite political candidates usually taking the option to either return the money to donors or give it to charities.
State Ethics Commissioner Rick Thompson was the lone vote against the consent order, arguing that settling without Oxendine admitting guilt was unacceptable.
But after years of inactivity following an initial complaint that dragged on for so long that the ethics commission dropped some of the 2010 charges, as the time lapsed exceeded the statute of limitations. The ethics commission voted 4-1 Thursday to close the case. It was the state’s longest campaign donation abuse investigation.
Executive Director of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission David Emadi said that a stiffer penalty along with Oxendine’s admission would have been a better outcome.
But without this settlement, the ethics commission attorney Robert Lane said the case could drag on for another two or three years, with Oxendine continuing to drain the campaign contribution account by paying legal fees, which is allowed under state law.
Oxendine lives in Florida, which could’ve meant the state having to hire outside counsel to garnish assets out of state.
“I think when you weigh all those issues against each other, I think this is the other best available option,” Emadi said at Thursday’s hearing.
The commission first became aware of Oxendine’s questionable campaign spending after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2009 that he had accepted 10 times the amount of contributions from two insurance companies than the law allows.
But with inactivity from the previous ethics commission and staff, the case was dismissed against the insurers in 2014.
Oxendine still had $500,000 in leftover contributions from his gubernatorial campaign in 2015.
The state’s watchdog agency and Oxendine engaged in a lengthy battle over subpoenaing Oxendine’s banking records, which eventually ended with a ruling in favor of the state.
Soon after, the audit revealed several hundred thousand dollars had disappeared from his account, Lane said at Thursday’s hearing.
Stephen Spaulding, public policy and government affairs attorney for watchdog agency Common Cause, said it’s unfortunate that a case like this took so long that some charges were dropped.
“Enforcement of laws intended to protect the integrity of the democratic process ought to be fair, and it ought to be timely,” he said in an email.
Oxendine’s attorney Douglas Chalmers said it was long-overdue for the case connected to the 2010 campaign to be settled, saying that the state wasted taxpayer money on legal fees.
Oxendine’s campaign momentum waned as the long-time frontrunner fought against reports about his suspicious accounting practices. He wound up in a fourth-place finish in the 2010 Republican primary that Nathan Deal won.
The former Gwinnett County resident spent four terms as insurance commissioner and in 2009 was accused by an insurance company of unethical behavior. The firm charged that a physician it was in a dispute with tried to curry favor with Oxendine with campaign donations that paid for two trips to the Academy Awards ceremonies, lavished with swanky meals, limo rides and a hunting excursion,