Ethics panel to review complaint

Published 10:11 pm Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The State Ethics Commission meets Wednesday to review a complaint about Secretary of State Beth Chapman using her campaign fund to pay family members and her business.

The complaint focuses on campaign finance reports that Chapman filed after her successful race in 2006 to become Alabama’s chief elections official.

The complaint was filed by a member of her own political party, Mark Montiel, a former Republican appeals court judge and GOP candidate for attorney general in 2006.

The Ethics Commission is prohibited by law from commenting publicly about complaints, but Montiel said the commission sent him a letter saying his complaint would be heard Wednesday. He said he plans to testify at the meeting.

“Beth Chapman is a member of my own party. I have voted for her on numerous occasions. It’s not a personal issue, but I think her conduct warrants review,” he said.

Chapman declined to comment.

“It would be inappropriate to comment at this time out of respect for the process,” she said.

In March, Montiel asked the Ethics Commission and the state attorney general’s office to investigate campaign activities in Chapman’s 2006 election.

Chapman said then that she was glad the commission was reviewing the matter because it would clear up allegations made by “a sore loser who doesn’t understand the law.”

Montiel said Chapman’s campaign finance reports showed she raised $71,000 in contributions after her election in November 2006 to pay off campaign debts, yet she had reported only $9,000 in campaign loans as debts.

He also questioned Chapman paying $19,752 to her business, Beth Chapman and Associates, after the election, and $22,000 to her husband and two teenage sons after the election.

In March, Chapman said the money to her business was mostly reimbursement for travel and other expenses incurred during the campaign, and the payments to her family were for work in the campaign, covering everything from public relations to distributing yard signs.

Shortly after receiving Montiel’s complaint, Brenda Smith, chief of the attorney general’s opinions division, notified Montiel that the office found no violation of Alabama’s campaign finance laws.

Montiel said Monday he believes the matter falls under the state ethics law, which says, “Contributions to an office holder, a candidate, to a public official’s inaugural committee or transitional fund shall not be converted to personal use.”

On Wednesday, the Ethics Commission will hear testimony about the complaint in private, but then will go into public session to decide what it do. Its options range from closing the case to deciding that it is serious enough to send to a prosecutor for further review.