CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Republican activist criticized the state Ethics Commission Monday after the agency quietly settled a complaint against state Auditor Glen Gainer by allowing Gainer to donate money to a Charleston hospital.
Rob Cornelius, who filed the complaint against Gainer, said he expected the Ethics Commission to take a tougher stand against the auditor, who took part in an online advertising campaign for Visa last year.
"I'm disappointed," said Cornelius, a spokesman for West Virginia Young Republicans. "He doesn't apologize. After five terms in office, he still clearly doesn't respect and understand the Ethics Act."
To settle the complaint, Gainer agreed to give $1,000 to a CAMC Women and Children's Hospital program that evaluates children suspected of being victims of child abuse. Gainer selected the CAMC program to "further [his] desire to help children," according to his "conciliation agreement" with the commission.
Joan Parker, executive director of the Ethics Commission, cited a 2009 case in which Cabell County's chief tax deputy donated $500 to a Huntington food bank in lieu of paying a fine to the commission.
"It has happened," Parker said Monday. "There is a precedent for a charitable contribution."
But Cornelius questioned why the commission allowed Gainer to pick a charity and donate money to resolve an ethics complaint. The commission typically fines public officials, who pay the penalties directly to the agency.
He also criticized the Ethics Commission for not posting Gainer's agreement on the agency's website. The commission approved the settlement at a June 6 meeting, but never publicly announced the deal.
Parker said the agency doesn't post conciliation agreements on its website unless the decisions include a public reprimand.
"There was no posting because there was no public reprimand," she said.
Cornelius, who released a copy of the complaint to Charleston media Sunday night, noted that it's Gainer's office that approves the Ethics Commission's expenses.
The agreement comes on the heels of an Ethics Commission investigation into whether the auditor violated the Ethics Act when he appeared in a series of online Visa commercials that promote the state's purchasing card ("P-card") program.
Gainer admitted no wrongdoing, but he agreed to contact Visa and have the ads permanently removed from the company's website. Gainer also must deliver a copy of the video to the Ethics Commission.
The commission declined to reprimand Gainer, citing "significant press coverage" and noting that he hadn't previously faced an ethics complaint during his 20 years of public service, according to the agreement. The commission also said Gainer cooperated with the investigation and demonstrated "candor and contrition."