ATLANTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission found probable cause for campaign billboard funds used in 2018 against Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr, saying he did not properly register the entity and did not disclose where the money for the billboards came from.

It took commissioners nearly 2 hours at a state ethics hearing to find probable cause for a 2018 violation against Augusta’s Mayor.

Joe Cusack, Deputy General Counsel said, “The commission found probable cause that Mr. McKinnen and Mr. Davis were operating  the “Concerned Citizens of Richmond County” which has those billboards on Gordon Highway for the ballot committee on May 22, 2018 asking Augusta voters where should the new James Brown Arena be.”

The Mayor says the renderings of the James Brown Arena were not just for the billboards but also for a property management company for site pitches.

“There is 2 things that require to register including you are advocating VOTE YES OR VOTE NO for certain things on the ballot or you spend $500 in expenditures. Now this billboard $3950 so they would have been required to register and it’s unclear as to how these were funded,” said Deputy Counsel Cusak.

The Deputy Counsel says the violation is that they failed to register as a ballot committee with the elections office and failed to file a campaign contribution report.

Cusack said, Who is involved, where you are getting your money from, who are you spending your money on  and giving the public transparency. That entity never registered but we found through that emails Mr. McKinnen and Mr. Davis were involved with funding that effort.”

The Deputy Counsel says personal emails were used and could have been an attempt to avoid open records and that only city email address should have been used for transparency.

Mayor Hardie Davis Junior’s lawyer says nothing was done out of procedure. Now, this moves to the office of state administrative hearings for further investigation.

An official statement from Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. regarding the decision said,

“The Ethic’s Commission made one vote today, finding probable cause to allow further investigation of whether I participated with an unregistered Ballot Committee that should have filed required Disclosures. I vehemently disagree with the Commission’s vote.  The billboards were purchased by Cardinale Management, the owner of the Regency Mall property.  I am disappointed that the Commission found probable cause even though they acknowledged that there was no obligation to register a Ballot Committee or to file disclosures if the Billboards were purchased by an individual or corporation, as they were in this matter.

The billboards that we are talking about four years later have a signed contract by the owner of the Regency Mall, and I am now held responsible for their action because the Ethics Commission has not been able to make contact with Cardinale Management. If you listened to today’s hearing, the Commission’s attorneys admitted that they had no evidence that Mayor Hardie Davis or Tonia Gibbons participated in a Dark Money Ballot Committee.

It is important to note that the Ethics Commission also voted against a probable cause finding against Tonia Gibbons, whose name was included on the Complaint because she was copied on the lone email stream that I regrettably responded to.  Were it not for that email, I do not believe that either Tonia Gibbons or I would have been included in the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County Complaint.

Regarding the second matter before the Ethics Commission, no second vote was required because I consented to probable cause as to the Complaint alleging late filing and improper use of campaign funds.  I elected to do so because I want the opportunity to make sure that the Commission understands that mistakes made were of minimal consequence and that all of the filings have been corrected and filed.”

Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr.