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February 13th, 2010

Scott Claims OX Wrongfully Accepted $1.2 Million In Campaign Financing

One GOP gubernatorial candidate, trailing in the electoral fundraising sweepstakes, says his chief rival shouldn't have been allowed to raise the money he did.

By Maggie Lee / Staff

One GOP gubernatorial candidate, trailing in the electoral fundraising sweepstakes, says his chief rival shouldn't have been allowed to raise the money he did.

He's accused his competetor of wrongly accepting financial donations under a cloak of grey codicil, and now he wants to make a new law to prohibit it from happening again.

John Oxendine

State Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton), perhaps channelling as an investigative reporter, has released a list of some $1.2 million in campaign donations that he says were wrongly accepted by his frontrunning nemessis for the GOP gubenatorial nomination, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

Insurance industry financial support for Oxendine is "blurring the line of Georgia's Ethics in Government Act to an unacceptable degree," Scott said in a hastily called press conference at the Capitol.

The Tifton legislator, mired in fifth place while garning only three percent support from likely Republican voters, according to a recenlty released poll, maintains that regulated entites can't make campaign donations to their state regulator. Scott cites current Georgia ethics law as the ruling authority. The law also says regulators can't take money from political action committees or people acting on behalf of the entities, either.

"The existing law has not proven sufficient to prohibit this type of conduct in some cases, most notably, by our current Insurance Commissioner," Scott said, presenting a 31-page list of donations made to Oxendine from people employed by medical and law practices and insuance companies -- or the companies themselves.


Oxendine's receipts totaled $2.9 million as of Dec. 2009; an updated disclosure is due in March. Scott, who says he doesn't take money from lobbyists, had collected $403,000 up to the same date.

A "regulated entity" by law, is any person required to hold a license from a statewide elected official. In the case of insurance, that includes every agent in the state.

Scott wants the law changed to specifically refer to insurance companies and commissioners. A house bill Scott filed last week would prevent any sitting insurance commissioner or their family from getting near any money associated with the insurance business.

"The companies and individuals in the insurance industry should be able to operate without concern for the political ambitions of their chief regulator," Scott declared, though he added he's open to "tailoring" the language during committee hearings.

There does seem to be a little wiggle room in the current law for some regulatee donations. It says people employed by regulated entities, even those in whose name a license is held, can still personally give donations. That might free up the neighborhood insurance agent.

Either way, it wouldn't seem to exclude the numerous companes and officers on Scott's list.

Austin Scott


Oxendine leads the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination according to a recent poll by Insider Advantage of likely GOP voters. But five months before the vote, both men trail "undecided", which tops 45 percent of the polling results.

The Insurance Commissioner thinks Scott's bill is a "political stunt by a desparate candidate.

"Georgians are tired of political theater," Oxendine said through a spokesman, "and deserve meaningful reform for all elected officials."

Yet issues about fraternizing with the people he regulates keep dogging The Ox.

Last year, one insurance executive funnelled $120,000 to Oxendine's gubernatorial campaign through ten dummy political action committees registered to Alabama addresses. Oxendine said he had been unaware of the ruse and promptly gave the money back.

He accepted a $250,000 loan from Lawrenceville's Brand Bank, which just divested an insurance company in June. Some took him to task for that, but he put up his Duluth home as collateral to secure the loan.

Former Secretary of State Karen Handel is in the same race with Oxendine and Scott, but she resigned this year in order to be able to collect donations from the professionals she had been licensing, a long list from accountants to veternarians.

Karen Handel

The prohibition applies to statewide elected executives like Oxendine and Handel's succesor, Brian Kemp, as well as the State School Superintendent, Attorney General, and Commissioner of Labor.

Oxendine suggested his own ethics plan laid out earlier this year is much better than Scott's bill.

Oxendine said he would make the State Ethics Commission financially independent from the legislature, and make the legislature clarify and regularly update the Georgia ethics code.

As a lame duck governor, however, Sonny Perdue (R-Ga) last week proposed that those five offices should be appointed by the his successors, not elected by the people. He said such a cabinet-style government would ensure the bosses looked to their jobs, not their re-election campaigns.

If Perdue's initiative passed, Scott's bill would be moot. Right now, Scott is looking for some much needed traction -- apparantly at Ox's expense. 

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