An administrative law judge is recommending Jeff Lewis be disqualified from running for the state Senate District 52 seat in the May 24 Republican primary election.
At issue are nearly 10 years worth of campaign finance disclosures Lewis failed to file from his time in the state House, plus a new law saying a candidate is not eligible unless his reports are up to date.
“The stipulated facts and testimony at the hearing establish that Lewis had not made the requisite filings as of the date of his qualification filing nor had he cured such delinquency by the time of the hearing in this matter and the closing of the record in this matter,” Judge Charles Beaudrot wrote in an opinion released Thursday afternoon.
“By the express language of the statute, Lewis was not, therefore ‘eligible to qualify to seek election’ when he qualified to run for State Senator District 52,” it reads.
The opinion now goes to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who will make a ruling. Raffensperger’s decision can be appealed to Fulton County Superior Court and Lewis’ attorney indicated it’s likely, during a supplemental hearing Thursday morning.
The former lawmaker from Bartow County is challenging incumbent Chuck Hufstetler for the seat, which represents most of Bartow and Floyd and a small piece of Gordon County. Bartow County Board of Education Chair Derek Keeney also is running.
There are no Democrats seeking the nomination, so the winner of the GOP primary will be unopposed in November.
Lewis served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 16 years, until he was ousted in 2008. His campaign fund contained over $75,000 when he stopped filing the required twice-yearly reports in 2012.
A “transparency” law passed by the Georgia General Assembly this year — that went into effect just days before the qualifying period opened — bars candidates from qualifying if they have outstanding state fees, fines, taxes or campaign finance reports.
Hufstetler filed a challenge to Lewis’ candidacy with the secretary of state’s office, which sent it to the Office of State Administrative Hearings for an opinion. In an April 19 hearing, Lewis’ attorney contended the law is unconstitutional because the legislature can’t add eligibility requirements to a constitutional office.
In a Thursday conference call the attorney, Lester Tate, said Lewis has since filed his missing reports and asked the judge to take that into consideration. Tate argued the error was rectified before the election, and before the secretary of state received the case.
Judge Beaudrot said he would add that information to the opinion he intended to issue, but the record was closed in April.
“Assume I could take judicial notice of it. That doesn’t address the issue of when it was filed,” Beaudrot said.
He noted that the reports — 18 of them filed May 10 — were submitted after both the qualifying period and the hearing. After some technical legal wrangling between Tate and Hufstetler’s attorney Carey Miller, the judge reiterated that he would not accept the late filings as evidence but would note their existence in case there is an appeal.
“I will issue my recommendation today. Then y’all can go fight about it in front of Mr. Raffensperger and his folks,” Beaudrot said.