Georgia ethics panel investigates spending by former senator
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia ethics officials say they’re moving ahead with an ethics investigation against a former state senator accused of illegally spending campaign money on personal expenses after he left office.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission voted Thursday to pursue a case against former state Sen. Chip Rogers, alleging he claimed additional loans to his campaign after he left office so he could falsely repay himself with leftover money from contributors.
Commission staff said the former Senate majority leader used campaign money for thousands of dollars in personal expenses, spending money at Six Flags, Dillard’s Department Store, the PGA Super Store, a luxury car dealership in Florida and the Shaky Boots Music Festival.
Georgia law says campaign money can’t be spent on personal expenses. Once candidates are done running for office, they can dispose of surplus funds by donating it to charity, returning it to donors or repaying campaign debt and expenses.
The commission also found probable cause that Rogers, a Woodstock Republican, didn’t file several required campaign finance reports or completely list campaign spending. A hearing would follow the probable cause finding. The commission could fine Rogers.
“These blatant violations of campaign finance laws and highly questionable uses of campaign funds are matters that commission staff take very seriously,” said commission Executive Secretary David Emadi. “Following the ruling in our favor today by the commission, we look forward to further prosecuting this matter and getting to the bottom of exactly what Mr. Rogers was doing with this money and why.”
Rogers’ lawyer, Doug Chalmers, said the former senator’s repayments to himself did not exceed the value of his loans, that the statute of limitations on at least some of the allegations had run out and that records were no longer available to prove or disprove the case.
“These cases should have been dismissed years ago, they should be dismissed today,” the newspaper reported he told the commission.
Rogers left the Senate in 2012 when he took a $150,000-a-year job with Georgia Public Broadcasting. At that time, records show Rogers had $234,000 in his campaign war chest.
Rogers later made filings claiming his campaign owed him thousands more than he earlier claimed. Commission staff attorney Rachel Goldberg said there “was no way to tell” if the loans were legitimate.
Chalmers said Rogers found he incurred expenses while in office, including mileage and phone costs, for which he’d never been reimbursed. Records showed Rogers paid himself more than $50,000 for loan repayments and mileage after 2012.
Commission staff said bank records show Rogers was spending campaign money on personal expenses, including during trips to London and Italy.