New Gwinnett District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson and Solicitor General Brian Whiteside have agreed to pay fines to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission for campaign violations, according to an attorney for the commission.
Austin-Gatson has agreed to pay a $2,500 fine to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission for two state campaign law violations. Meanwhile, Whiteside has reportedly agreed to pay a $5,000 fine for five violations stemming from missing campaign contribution and personal finance disclosure statements.
The commission took up consent orders against Austin-Gatson and Whiteside at its meeting on Thursday.
One of the violations against Austin-Gatson stemmed from an allegation made by former District Attorney Danny Porter, whom Austin-Gatson defeated in November. It involved Austin-Gatson’s husband, Travis, handing out her campaign business cards to a judge and other officials while picking up a search warrant in Hall County in August. Travis Gatson is an investigator in Whiteside’s office, and Austin-Gatson also worked in that office until her election as district attorney.
The other violation stems from an allegation the commission’s investigators found while they were investigating the claims made by Porter. Austin-Gatson was accused of attending a criminal justice event at the state Capitol last year and engaging in campaigning while she was there.
Commission attorney Joe Cusack said she did not take leave to attend the event in a campaign capacity and, therefore, was campaigning on county time.
“This was an inadvertent situation,” Austin-Gatson’s attorney, Andy Morgan, told the commission. “Mrs. Gatson believed that since she is a salaried employee and was normally able to make up time for work during the day during after hours, she thought it would satisfy the requirement, She understands the violation and is therefore accepting the consent order as currently presented. (It’s) the same thing with her husband, who happened to be overzealous ... It was an unfortunate situation. He recognizes that as well and accepts the order.”
The fine will be paid by Austin-Gatson’s campaign.
Meanwhile, the campaign finance commission’s staff filed a complaint against Whiteside, saying he had not filed five campaign contribution disclosure reports. Three of those reports were due in 2018 while the other two were due in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Even after candidates are elected, they must still file campaign contribution disclosure reports in non-election years under state law.
The exact due dates for each of the missing campaign contribution disclosure reports are:
♦ March 31, 2018
♦ Oct. 25, 2018
♦ Dec. 31, 2018
♦ June 30, 2019
♦ June 30, 2020
“He’s also required to file a personal financial disclosure statement since he is an elected official, a locally elected official,” Cusack said. “In this matter, he has not filed in the years that covered 2018 and 2019, so there’s two of those personal finance disclosure statements that have not been filed.
“In this matter we have seven total violations of the Campaign Finance Act for those failure to file the campaign contribution disclosure reports and personal finance disclosure statements.”
Cusack said Whiteside represented himself in the matter and has told him that he would personally pay the fine. The commission did not hear from Whiteside directly at the meeting.