Ethics panel declines to take Taylor to court

ATLANTA - The State Ethics Commission on Thursday rejected an unusual request to speed up disposition of a complaint filed against Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mark Taylor by the Georgia Republican Party.

The GOP asked the panel to seek a court injunction barring the Taylor campaign from spending $35,000 in campaign contributions Republicans allege were illegal.

An injunction would have allowed the state to act on the complaint before the Nov. 7 election pitting Taylor, now Georgia's lieutenant governor, against Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue. The commission typically takes many months to rule on ethics complaints.

"These are not frequently exercised powers. I concede that," Robert Highsmith, the Republican Party's lawyer and a former commission member, told the ethics panel. "But this is an extraordinary situation ... defiance of commission rules by a candidate for the state's highest elective office."

But Lee Parks, the Taylor campaign's lawyer, said the request for an injunction was unprecedented. Parks accused Republicans of trying to use a state agency to damage the lieutenant governor before the election.

"It's strictly partisan politics," Parks said. "(Perdue) needs negative advertising to come out of this commission to hurt his opponent."

The case the commission heard Thursday is part of a flurry of ethics complaints that have been filed against Taylor and Perdue in recent weeks.

It involves Taylor's receipt of $40,000 in contributions late last year from eight car dealerships owned by the same Columbus dealer.

A commission rule in effect at the time, which since has become state law, prohibits contributions from "affiliated corporations" beyond the $5,000 limit that applies to individual companies.

Also, the GOP also has charged Taylor with receiving $15,000 in illegal donations from companies owned by his father, Albany businessman Fred Taylor.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Democratic Party filed a complaint Thursday accusing Perdue of using tax dollars to fund his re-election campaign.

The charges stem from the launching of a campaign ad touting the governor's commitment to prosecuting online sexual predators who target children on the same day he held a news conference announcing plans to increase the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's staff assigned to such cases.

"Promoting a political activity under the guise of performing an official function is precisely the type of illegal use of state resources that the Ethics in Government Act was designed to prevent," state Democratic Chairman Bobby Kahn said.

Also this week, a Taylor supporter from Middle Georgia accused Perdue of failing to disclose all of the properties he owns.

In unanimously dismissing the Republican Party's bid to seek an injunction against the Taylor campaign, commissioners noted that the $35,000 in question was contributed to the Democrat's primary campaign and, thus, already has been spent.

Parks also argued that hauling Taylor directly into court without an investigation of the charges by the commission's staff and a formal hearing before the panel would deprive him of his due-process rights.

But Republican Party spokeswoman Clelia Davis criticized the commission's decision for allowing Taylor to spend the $35,000 unchecked.

"The people of Georgia deserve better than what they got today," she said.

While the Republicans' complaint against Taylor remains alive pending an investigation by the ethics commission's staff, the commission dismissed another complaint that was filed against Taylor by George Anderson, a citizen watchdog who has filed many complaints against Georgia public officials during the last decade.

Anderson accused Taylor of failing to provide sufficient information in two of his campaign-finance reports from 2004 on either his contributors or the individuals and companies he paid for campaign-related services.