Ethics commission dismisses Chalk case

Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas
Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas

ATLANTA — The State Ethics Commission has dismissed a case against former Warner Robins mayoral candidate Chuck Chalk, saying clarity between law and a rule in the Ethics in Government Act make it unclear which should be followed.

At issue was a contribution of $10,000 Chalk received from the coffers of deceased Warner Robins Mayor Donald Walker at the end of 2009.

State ethics officials became aware of the potential violation when The Telegraph reported in January that Chalk had listed the donation on campaign contribution reports. He received the donation Dec. 19. Walker committed suicide Sept. 28. 2009 Attorneys for Walker’s campaign account have not said who signed off on the contribution.

Commissioners discussed how to handle the conflict between section 21-5-33, which speaks to the disposition of contributions and says 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. Officials said in January that it shouldn’t take precedence over section 21-5-41, which states “no person or political entity shall receive more than $2,400 from a single donor during a general election and $1,200 during a general election runoff.”

“It seems there’s a rule change, that the rule is in conflict with the law,” State Ethics Commission Chairman James C. Gatewood said. “We’ll go through the rule-making process to change this rule.”

Chalk lost a close run-off 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 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.

While attorneys for Walker were working to remove money from the account to fund Chalk’s unsuccessful bid, they failed to close out Walker’s own account. As of Tuesday, campaign disclosure forms for the account have yet to be submitted. The forms were due Dec. 31, the last day of the filing year for 2009 races.

Chalk said he was actually glad the complaint was filed, and that the situation is forcing the commission to address the conflict between the two parts of the act in question.

“We thought we were good,” he said of the transaction. “But the test came when it went before the commission. The final determination was needed.”

Other actions

The group also approved a compliance agreement with Insurance Commissioner candidate Ralph Hudgens. Hudgens, a former state senator, failed to use proper procedures when attempting to transfer funds stored in his account for state senate to his account for insurance commissioner. He said he was advised by a former staff member that he could send a letter to donors asking for permission to transfer the money between the two accounts instead of refunding the money and asking them to contribute to the new race, said SEC Executive Secretary Stacey Kalberman.

The commission also agreed to a $250 civil penalty for Macon Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, who admitted to violating the Ethics in Government Act by asking a subordinate to send out an e-mail inviting people to a support party for gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes.

The commission also passed a resolution recognizing Sonny Watson for his outstanding service to the commission. He served with the group from 2005 to this year.

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