A State Ethics Commission hearing about more than $100,000 in questionable campaign contributions to Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine’s bid for governor has been cancelled, according to a posting on the commission’s Web site.
No other details were immediately available, but as of late last week the hearing was still scheduled.
But the case has been simmering for more than a year, since The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Oxendine collected $120,000 in contributions from a series of Alabama-based political action committees with ties to a insurance companies that Oxendine regulated.
The companies, State Mutual Insurance and Admiral Life Insurance Co., both of Rome, filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court in late May to quash Ethics Commission subpoenas that sought documents related to the contributions.
State Mutual Insurance Co. of Rome on Friday asked a Fulton County judge to find the State Ethics Commission in contempt of court for planning to move forward with the hearing this week despite Judge Kimberly M. Esmond Adams ordering that all commission hearings into “this matter” be delayed pending a hearing in her court. Commission executive secretary Stacey Kalberman indicated to the AJC last week that the commission planned to move forward with the hearing.
On Thursday, Adams issued an order calling for a hearing in her court by July 2 and ordering that “all hearings and actions in this matter before the State Ethics Commission are stayed for a period of time not to exceed thirty (30) days or until further order of this court.”
But Kalberman told the AJC on Thursday that the commission’s interpretation of “this matter” in Adams’ order is that it only applied to discussions of State Mutual and Admiral Life. She said the commission could move forward with its hearing this week to discuss other topics related to the Oxendine investigation.
But Kalberman also said Friday that the commission asked Adams to clarify whether they may move forward with the June 24 hearing. It was unclear late Monday whether the delay in the Ethics Commission hearing was related to the request.
The commission has been investigating the donations since last year and recently subpoenaed the companies for financial records. The companies balked, and filed a suit in Fulton County to stop the investigation. They argued it was political and had been delayed until just before the July 20 primary election to hurt Oxendine, the front-runner for the GOP nomination. Delos Yancey III, who heads State Mutual, is a friend of Oxendine.
Kalberman said delays have not been caused by the commission, but by a lack of cooperation from 10 political action committees in Alabama that channeled the donations to Oxendine. The PACs were set up by a State Mutual board member.
But in Friday’s filing, an attorney for the insurance companies said Kalberman is wrong.
“The members of the commission and the executive secretary are all attorneys; they are officers of the court,” attorney Daniel Meachum said. “They cannot willfully disregard a court order and expect such a blatant act to be ignored.”
Last year, the AJC reported State Mutual and Admiral Life had used 10 Alabama PACs to channel $120,000 – almost ten times the legal limit – to Oxendine’s campaign.
Georgia’s Ethics-in-Government Act prohibits officials from taking money directly from companies they regulate. The law also prohibits funneling money through PACs to get around contribution limits of $12,200 per candidate in a normal election cycle.
After the stories, Oxendine returned the money and the State Ethics Commission opened an investigation.