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Ethics complaint: Jason Carter raised funds in a 'grossly unethical and illegal' manner with campaign event (Update)

Carter's campaign calls for immediate withdrawal of 'frivolous' complaint

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One former Republican lawmaker has taken issue with a campaign fundraiser hosted by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter that he claims violated state law.

Former state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, last week filed an ethics complaint against Carter for organizing a fundraising event that he co-hosted with his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter. The cocktail reception, which according to the invitation benefited the Democratic Party of Georgia, took place in New York City on March 23. Douglas claims that fundraising efforts for the event started well before that date during the legislative session, which ended on March 20.

The former lawmaker says that Carter violated a state law prohibiting state politicians from raising campaign cash while the General Assembly is in session. In his complaint, Douglas insists that the gubernatorial candidate should be required to return all of the funds raised from that reception. He writes:

On Sunday, March 23rd, Jason Carter held a fundraiser in New York. The invitation for this event is attached. The 2014 legislative session concluded on March 20. The invitations and direct solicitations for this fundraiser were sent out and conducted before the end of the 2014 legislative session. As a sitting State Senator, Jason Carter is prohibited from raising money during the legislative session per OCGA 21-5-35. In anticipation of the response from Jason Carter that this event was a fundraiser for the Georgia Democrat Party and thus permissible, I believe this argument is completely bogus and mocks current Georgia law. To comply with Georgia law, campaign efforts by political parties must be multi-candidate in nature. If this event was to benefit Jason Carter, Connie Stokes, and Greg Hecht, it would have been legitimate. It plainly was not. The invite itself is clear proof that this event was purely to benefit Jason Carter. It is reasonable to assume, and Carter must prove otherwise, that he directly solicited funds for this event prior to the end of the session. The invite itself is a solicitation by Carter. This action was grossly unethical and illegal. Carter should be forced to return the illegal funds immediately.

In a statement, Carter's Campaign Manager Matt McGrath denies any wrongdoing from the campaign. He attacked the Douglas' complaint as an attempt to "deflect attention from the never-ending ethical quagmire" surrounding Deal, who has recently caught flak for his alleged attempts to interfere with an investigation into his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

McGrath threatened to file a counter-claim against Deal for hosting a Republican Governors Assocation fundraising event with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie if Douglas did not withdraw his complaint. McGrath explains:

"The complaint is utterly without merit. We followed both the spirit and the letter of the law, as we have throughout the campaign. The event in question took place after the legislative session had concluded, and Georgia campaign finance law allows candidates to raise for political parties.

"This complaint is all the more laughable given that Gov. Deal held a $10,000-per-person fundraiser in the middle of legislative session with another embattled governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey. That fundraiser benefited his biggest political benefactor, the Republican Governors Association. The RGA spent more than $6.5 million on his behalf in 2010, and has already spent $1.5 million this year to prop up his flailing campaign.

"Therefore, we call on Gov. Deal to demand his campaign contributor immediately withdraw this frivolous complaint. If that is not done by the close of business today, we will file the attached complaint to the Georgia Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission posthaste. If Governor Deal decides to stand by this frivolous complaint and mockery of the process, he must also explain how his in-session fundraiser was not itself a violation of the fundraising ban."

According to the AJC, a Deal campaign spokesperson said the Republican fundraising event was hosted by the RGA and not the governor's campaign.

UPDATE, Friday, 4:54 p.m.: Hours after making a threat, McGrath decided to file two ethics complaints against the governor. The first one relates to the RGA fundraiser with Christie, while a second one raises questions about a February invitation sent out during the legislative session for Deal's "Grillin' with the Governor" event.