The leaders of two Tea Party organizations in Cherokee County aren't going down without a fight on charges they violated state ethics rules.
Carolyn Cosby, chair of the Canton Tea Party Patriots, and Conrad Quagliaroli, chair of the Cherokee Tea Party Patriots, have both been hit with consent orders from the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
Cosby was told she had to respond in 15 days to charges of inappropriate campaign activities or face a $12,000 file.
Quagliaroli was fined $1,000 for failing to register as a ballot committee.
Cherokee County District 3 Commissioner Karen Bosch earlier this year brought forth complaints that the Cherokee Tea Party Patriots was collecting money and using those funds to convince voters to defeat the regional sales tax referendum to fund transportation projects.
She also accused the Canton Tea Party Patriots of raising money to influence voters on which candidates to support in the July 31 primary.
Bosch noted in her charge that neither organizations were registered with the state commission as a political action committee or an independent committee, which would make their activity a violation of Georgia ethics laws.
A consent order is a document used to settle cases that come before commission. Both the commission and respondent agree to settle the terms of the case, which include admissions of violations by those responding to the charges, findings of fact, conclusions of the law and sanctions.
Orders must be signed by the respondent and sent back to the commission no later than seven days before the case is scheduled to go before the commission.
If the respondents don't agree to the order, a hearing will be scheduled before the commission.
Cosby told Patch that the decision to issue the consent orders was done by a "kangaroo court." She noted she has opted to ask the state to drop the complaints against her.
"What’s really going is angry (county) commissioners who want the citizens of this county silenced," she said, referring specifically to Commissioners Jim Hubbard and Karen Bosch.
Cosby and her supporters have been vocal in their critique of the failed Ball Ground Recycling venture, which has dogged county leaders since February when the county had to pick up the tab after they were notified by the Bank of New York that operator Jimmy Bobo had not been making payments.
Cosby said it wasn't fair for the ethics commission to level charges against her without allowing her the opportunity to defend herself. She noted the commission informed her they received photos of members of the Canton Tea Party holding signs that blasted the failed T-SPLOST referendum.
Since she hasn't seen the photo, Cosby said she can't be sure if it's in fact a member of her organization. She also added that if it was a member, they were acting as an individual and "I have no control over them."
She noted that even if she does speak out against certain taxation items, she is doing so in her capacity as a citizen and not as the leader of the Canton Tea Party Patriots.
“I spoke as an individual and I have not given up my right as an individual simply because I’m a public figure at this point," she said. "And I’m not required to do that.”
For his part, Quagliaroli said he disagreed with the consent order as the Cherokee Tea Patriots doesn't legally exists since it's not registered as any formal entity.
Quagliaroli added he spent $4 of his own money to produce the fliers and noted any opinions he expressed on the regional transportation referendum was that of his own and not his organization.
He noted the organization only exists in the "minds of people who gather together."
"I'm sure they will throw it out," he said, referring to the commission. "How can you register an entity that does not legally exist?”
Quagliaroli added the charges were being brought forth by "sleazy politician."
Bosch responded to Cosby's claims that she was acting on behalf of the entire commission by saying she submitted the charges as a citizen, not as a county commissioner.
"No one has ever denied her right or her organization's right to voice their opinion," she said. "However if she would like to influence public opinion in a corporate manner, as she has done, there are certain laws she must comply with."
Bosch went on to say Cosby was made aware of the state laws, but chose to ignore them. She also said Cosby is now "critiquing the law and the organization charged with enforcement."
"Ms. Cosby is once again using the situation to spew her normal propaganda of misinformation and distorted facts," she added.
Bosch added it was "unfortunate" that Quagliaroli has resorted to name calling, adding "he could have avoided all of this by simply complying with the law.
She reiterated that no one is trying to stifle either Cosby or Quagliaroli's free speech, but added there are laws people have to follow when they "organize and begin to lobby for votes in a corporate manner."
"The laws are in place to protect the citizens and allow them the ability to find out who and what a group is all about," she said. "Certainly Mr. Quagliaroli would not object to that level of transparency."
Commissioner Hubbard noted it was a "shame" that members of both organizations clamored for candidates to disclose campaign contributions that were under $101, but "deny that they should have to disclose any of the contributions and expenditures they used."
He also noted he was glad to see the state ethics commission move forward with their investigation.
As part of Bosch's complaints, which she formally made in May, she produced a flier that listed County Commission District 2 candidate Channing Ruskell as the "Tea Party favorite." The flier also included Cosby's phone number as the point of contact on the political material.
She also included evidence from District 2 incumbent Commissioner Jim Hubbard that claims Cosby only allowed "favorites" to speak at Tea Party meetings and asked those in attendance to donate money to a fund to help the organization's favorite candidates win the July 31 primary.
Bosch also produced information that was allegedly passed out at meetings, urging Cherokee residents to reject the T-SPLOST proposal.