No, it’s not a probe that Karen uses to find ethical problems. Here’s the gist:
The state Ethics Commission is investigating three complaints filed against former secretary of state Karen Handel alleging she repeatedly accepted campaign contributions exceeding the $6,100 limit for a single election.
To their credit, the Handel team indicates the questioned funds were refunded prior to the complaint being filed and cite an accounting error. Some are trying to assert that this lumps Mrs. Handel in with Oxendine in terms of funding – but this astute intern posits that it is more akin to Eric Johnson’s unreported earnings. That too was cited as an accounting error.
That being said – this story will have negligible impact on the primary election. Handel’s “momentum” has a greater mass and will not be stopped simply because a probe has been launched into her campaign. The probe would have to find intentional malfeasance for this story to have any traction. Accounting errors do happen, and in a campaign cycle where fund raising is hurt by economic downturns a mad dash for cash exists. I’m not saying anyone is playing “fast and loose” with the rules, but the reality of the situation is that these type of errors are common and often get corrected by the campaigns themselves. Just earlier this month, Ralph Hudgens had to return over 100K of funds – but he was not sanctioned because he was relying on false information.
Handel will still be able to hammer Oxendine and Deal over ethics. She’s been hammering Oxendine on a number of ethics issues for months now. Nor does this lessen the allegations against Deal, which have included using campaign funds to pay attorney fees in a federal ethics probe and arm twisting to get and maintain a sweetheart deal for his salvage company. They’ll respond with their usual rebuttals and maybe cite this probe, but the accusations of Karen being a liar levied by these campaigns have yet to cause her to lose any ground. On the contrary, she has been gaining ground in most polls and seems to be in a solid position to make the runoff.
This probe does help Johnson and gives him some more wiggle room. Handel may want to back off on citing Johnson’s “iffy ethics” in the next seven days. Beyond July 20th, I am not sure how this probe will affect Handel. Unless it shows clear and convincing evidence of wrongdoing, then it is nothing more than an accusation.