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Gwinnett DA accuses challenger of campaign violations

By Arielle Kass, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

The state ethics commission is investigating a Gwinnett candidate for district attorney, after her opponent accused her of campaigning on county time and using county resources.

David Emadi, the executive secretary of the ethics commission, confirmed the investigation into Patsy Austin-Gatson, the Democratic nominee for DA. He said he could provide no other information about the investigation, which was initiated following a complaint by the sitting DA, Danny Porter. Porter, a Republican, is running for reelection.

Porter said he had heard rumors for months that Austin-Gatson and Curtis Clemons, who was running for sheriff, were using county resources to create, edit, print and deliver campaign materials. Both Austin-Gatson and Clemons work in the county solicitor’s office. So does Austin-Gatson’s husband, Travis Gatson, who was also accused of impropriety.

But Porter didn’t file a complaint until this week, when he learned of an incident in Hall County that was documented by an investigator in the solicitor’s office there. The investigator, Andrew Ledbetter, wrote in an incident report that Gatson was in Hall County to obtain a search warrant when he handed everyone in the room a business card with his wife’s picture on it and said the campaign “could use all of the support they could get.”

“That’s a clear violation of the campaign laws. It’s also a crime,” Porter said. “To me, whether I win or lose the race, I think the truth of this needs to come out.”

The complaint encompasses that incident, as well as accusations that the couple and Clemons all violated campaign laws. All three have denied the accusations.

Austin-Gatson called Porter desperate for making the allegations. She has been on leave from the solicitor’s office since Aug. 1, but said prior to that, she had not used county resources for her campaign. Austin-Gatson, who is the supervising assistant solicitor general, said she would leave the office if she needed to do campaign-related work.

“I would never do that,” she said of mixing her campaign and county job. “I know it’s a very bright line, and I don’t cross it.”

In an affidavit, Gatson said the Hall County incident occurred in a reception area after someone else started a conversation about campaign season. He said he indicated that his wife was a candidate, and gave the magistrate judge a business card with his wife’s information after she expressed curiosity about the race. He said there was no reason to believe that anyone there lived in Gwinnett County.

His account was backed up by a statement from Tiffany Mosley, another solicitor’s office employee who accompanied him to Hall County.

“Nothing that Chief Investigator Gatson said sounded like ‘campaigning’ to me,” she wrote. “It sounded like a natural progression through the course of conversation, a reasonable response to something that was said and just a husband who is proud of his wife.”

Porter, who was first elected in 1992, toyed with the idea last year of switching parties and running as a Democrat as demographic changes in the county seem to favor Democratic candidates.

Thursday, he denied Austin-Gatson’s claim that the filing was a move of desperation. Porter said in addition to the incident report in Hall County, there are witnesses to his other accusations.

“Do you really think I’m inexperienced and stupid enough?” he said. “These are accusations of criminal behavior. That would be a rookie mistake.”

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