Attorney Doug Chalmers of the Political Law Group told the Tribune Thursday that Rogers was within the law when his campaign committee, Friends of Chip Rogers, was reimbursed out of state coffers for various mailings.
Allegations surfaced Wednesday when Jim Walls of Atlanta Unfiltered, an investigative news website, reported Rogers billed taxpayers for $8,100 in spending that was also reported as campaign expenses.
Rogers received the reimbursements from the General Assembly for mailings, printing and newspaper inserts that went out to his constituents, with some expenses cited as postage as well as printing and publications
“They were not campaign mailings, they were constituent mailings and had nothing to do with his election or re-election,” Chalmers said, who was hired by Rogers last week.
“It was proper for him to be reimbursed because he had loaned his campaign tens of thousands of dollars which were used to make these expenses in first place. There will be no double dipping—it’s perfectly legal,” Chalmers said.
Chalmers said Rogers has already taken steps to correct the matter.
“Even to avoid an appearance of impropriety, when the issue was brought to his attention, he cut a personal check to his campaign for $8,500,” Chalmers said.
Chalmers said that $8,500 check will be on Roger’s Sept. 30 campaign disclosure
But William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said in an interview with the Tribune that Rogers could still face possible consequences.
“I think it could potentially be a problem because the senator notarized a document certifying that everything in the report is true,” Perry said. “I think it would raise a red flag that the campaign, if it was paying for the expenses, is against the law and swearing he paid for himself would potentially be a problem.”
Georgia law prohibits using taxpayer money to pay for campaign costs. Lawmakers can use state funding for newsletters and other printed materials intended to keep constituents informed about issues, which Chalmers said the funds were used for.
Chalmers also refused Thursday to confirm that Rogers’ campaign is doing an audit of its finances.
Some of Rogers’ reimbursements dated to 2003, but most of the money was paid out earlier this year.
The state reimbursed Rogers $6,700 between February and May for printing and mailing costs, according to reports. His campaign disclosures also listed the same amount for printing and mailing.
Though state law includes fines and possible jail time for expenses illegally billed to taxpayers, Senate expense accounts are not audited.
Perry said there were a couple of problems he saw with what Rogers did.
“As I read state law, Senate members can be reimbursed for Senate-related business from their personal account as opposed to their campaign committee… that can’t be done. That seems to be in contrast with what Rogers’ attorney said,” Perry said.
Secondly, the appearance that the campaign made the expenditure, on campaign reports, then the Senate reimbursed Rogers personally for that amount, ”his campaign reports do not show return of that money,” Perry said.
“The way it looks is he had his campaign pay for it, then he received the money himself,” Perry said. “You’re not allowed to use campaign funds for personal use; they can only be used to advertise the campaign.”
Perry said he did not think anyone was out to steal money, but because of lack of oversight, politicians become careless.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.