Legislator questions decision in Chalk case

State Rep. Wendell K. Willard said a decision by the State Ethics Commission last week on a case involving former Warner Robins mayoral candidate Chuck Chalk “clouded” the interpretation of laws regarding campaign contribution limits.

The commission dismissed a case against Chalk on Aug. 17 regarding whether a $10,000 contribution he received in December 2009 from the campaign account of deceased Warner Robins Mayor Donald Walker violated campaign contribution laws. The commission said clarity between law and a rule in the Ethics in Government Act make it unclear which should be followed.

Armed with the commission’s decision, Willard, R-Sandy Springs, sent a letter Monday seeking clarification from state Attorney General Thurbert Baker’s office on whether campaign contribution limits for individual contributions apply to those from campaign accounts.

“I felt it was something we needed to get clarified,” Willard said from his Sandy Springs office Wednesday. “I thought the law (regarding limits) was pretty clear. (The State Ethics Commission) raised something that clouded the issue.”

Laws regarding contributions from individuals, section 21-5-41 of the Ethics in Government Act, state that candidates for local offices can take a maximum of $2,400 during general elections and $1,200 during runoffs. However, section 21-5-33, which speaks to the disposition of contributions, states contributions to a candidate may be transferred “without limitation” to any national, state or local committee of any political party or to any other candidate.

Ethics Rule 189-5-01, established in 2000, limits campaign-to-campaign contributions to the limits set in section 21-5-41 of the law, which conflicts with actions in section 21-5-33 that do not set transfer limits between campaigns.

Willard requested a quick response to the issue, as the state is in the middle of an election season.

Efforts to reach officials in Baker’s office were unsuccessful.

Chalk lost a close runoff election with Chuck Shaheen after quickly gaining speed in the weeks following Walker’s death in late September. He received contributions of more than $12,000 in two weeks’ time — all from Walker supporters, including Walker’s widow, daughter and brother Tommy.

The money from Walker’s campaign account could have been used to pay back a $10,000 loan Chalk took out from Robins Federal Credit Union to help fund his campaign.

According to the contribution reports, Chalk deducted $10,230 on Dec. 31 to repay loans he’d given his campaign. At the time, Chalk said someone he trusted had gone through the process with state officials to ensure it was properly handled.

The staff of the State Ethics Commission has been asked to review the rule and the law on campaign contributions. Until then, according to a commission press release, “campaign-to-campaign contributions are subject to contribution limits and all other restrictions of the Ethics in Government Act.”

To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.