ATLANTA (AP) — A judge is throwing out ethics charges against former Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, saying state officials waited too long to pursue action.
Oxendine was accused of illegally using campaign funds from his failed 2010 gubernatorial campaign to buy a house and lease cars. He was also accused of accepting campaign contributions 10 times above the legal limit from insurance companies.
Local news outlets report administrative law judge Ronit Walker ruled this week that the statute of limitations on misconduct had passed when ethics officials began to pursue Oxendine in 2015.
Walker also ruled that the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission can't pursue Oxendine for accepting $120,000 in bundled contributions from two insurance companies.
“No matter how patently obvious it may be that corporations are ‘affiliated,’ the legislature has chosen only to penalize the donor,” Walker wrote in dismissing the illegal contributions case against Oxendine, citing state law.
The ethics complaint against the insurers was dismissed in 2014 because commission staff had made little progress. Charges remained against Oxendine, who was elected insurance commissioner four times before losing his gubernatorial bid.
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.
Doug Chalmers, Oxendine's lawyer, argued in 2019 that there was nothing wrong about the loans.
“Loans are permitted under the act, they are investments,” Chalmers said then, saying the amounts were repaid with interest.
Ethics officials said Oxendine never mentioned a loan on his campaign reports before the newspaper’s report and had no intention of repaying the money before he was exposed.
David Emadi, the commission's executive director, said officials are not giving up on pursuing Oxendine.
“We strongly disagree with the decision by the administrative law judge and will pursue all appellate options available to us to ensure that Mr. Oxendine is ultimately held accountable," Emadi told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Oxendine has characterized the case as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Chalmers called the commission’s case “a lot of speculation.” Chalmers expressed satisfaction at the judge's ruling Friday.
Oxendine has $254,000 remaining in the account after spending about $200,000 paying Chalmers to defend him.