Ethics Commission files complaints against 13 General Assembly members

Nine are state House members, and four are state senators.

ATLANTA — Georgia's top ethics investigator announced Thursday that his office has filed complaints against 13 sitting members of the General Assembly alleging a range of campaign finance violations.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher learned the complaints name nine Democrats and four Republicans.

The charges are preliminary, and the executive secretary of the state Ethics Commission says the 13 legislators deserve the presumption of innocence.

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But Belcher said the complaint looks like a clear declaration that the commission intends to step up its game.

"I think it's an incredible violation of public trust if it's determined that they did do these things," said Ethics Commission Executive Secretary David Emadi.

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Emadi told Belcher that his goal is “to determine if there was blatant noncompliance.”

When Emadi took over as executive secretary, he followed Stefan Ritter, whose tenure ended with embarrassing accusations from his staff that he'd watched pornography on his office computer and had directed his staff to slow-walk its investigation of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

Emadi made no mention of Ritter but emphasized it was equal treatment for everyone.

“This was audit applied to and was conducted exactly the same for every member of the Georgia General Assembly,” Emadi said.

Emadi said the commission uncovered evidence to support an initial complaint against nine Democratic legislators and four Republicans.

Nine are state House members, and four are state senators. The accusations include failing to file disclosure reports, filing false reports, improperly accepting contributions during the legislative session and accepting contributions in excess of the legal limit.

“Those cases have been filed. Subpoenas have been issued into banking records of all 13 of those individuals,” Emadi said.

Emadi said he ordered the audit because of widespread complaints and whispers.

“I understand why, you know, local board of education members or City Council members are frustrated that they have complaints filed against them when there's a belief out there that the General Assembly itself, which is one of the most important bodies in the state, isn't being held to the same standard,” Emadi said.

Belcher caught up with two of the lawmakers named in the complaint on Thursday.

“It’s pretty embarrassing frankly. I mean, I feel like a … somebody who submits everything on time. I’m very transparent. So I feel embarrassed, but things happen,” said state Rep. Pat Gardner.

“You know, I don’t have any staff, so I have to do it all on my own. And I just filed it a day late. That’s all is was. It was a simple thing. I was late filing and the fine has already been paid,” said state Rep. Horacena Tate.

A quick check of the complaint reveals that Tate faces several charges, including accusations of failing to report campaign contributions. Her case is not closed.

Tate has not filed a formal response to the complaint. Only five of the 13 legislators have filed responses.