Georgia ethics chief Stefan Ritter resigns after accused of watching porn at work

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Stefan Ritter
Former Georgia Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission Executive Secretary Stefan Ritter. Image: Nydia Tisdale (YouTube CC)

The person in charge of enforcing ethics among Georgia politicians, Stefan Ritter, resigned on Friday after agreeing a $45,000 severance package. Several staff at his agency alleged that Ritter watched pornography on his computer at work, and stalled investigations into possible ethics violations.

Stefan Ritter accused of misusing government computers

In early January Ritter was suspended with pay by the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission, which he had led as Executive Secretary since 2015.

According to WSB-TV reports at the time, the suspension followed complaints by staff that Ritter watched pornography on the job, and kept irregular working hours.

Speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ritter denied the allegations.

“I certainly am not going to think this is appropriate,” he said. “I haven’t even seen any allegations. It’s puzzling to me.”

Commission chairman Jake Evans said the allegations were “serious enough to warrant an independent investigation,” however.

Ritter resigns, more details emerge

Ritter resigned his position at the commission on Friday with a $45,000 severance package, nearly a month to the day since the allegations first emerged.

Chairman Jake Evans was enthusiastic about the settlement agreement. “I think this is a great result for both parties,” he said.

More specifics about the allegations facing Ritter were reported in the Georgia media on Monday, however, prompting questions about how appropriate the settlement package actually was.

In written complaints, one staffer said she found hundreds of pornographic images on his computer. Other said they saw him viewing porn in the office.

“Mr. Ritter’s inappropriate conduct in the workplace and misuse of commission resources to view pornography must be addressed,” wrote Deputy Executive Secretary Robert Lane.

Other complaints describe possible campaign violations by several candidates during the 2017 Atlanta mayoral elections. Instead of pursuing the cases, Ritter allegedly urged his staff to let the candidates correct the mistakes themselves.

Ritter also allegedly prevented staff from following up leads when problems were discovered during an audit of 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ filings.

Deputy Executive Secretary Bethany Whetzel wrote, “Mr. Lane and I met with Mr. Ritter and informed him that we had found evidence of several violations by the Abrams campaign. Mr. Ritter was visibly disappointed that the violations we uncovered related to the Abrams campaign and directed us not to discuss their campaign filings.

“Mr. Ritter never met with the candidates,” she continued. “Thus no subpoenas have been issued.”

Severance package defended

Commission chairman Jake Evans has continued to defend the decision to settle with Stefan Ritter. A key objective appears to have been preventing Ritter from filing a lawsuit.

“Just because you are in the right doesn’t stop someone from suing you,” Evans told the Journal-Constitution. “Suing can cost a lot of money and heartache.”

Ritter’s predecessor, Stacey Kalberman, was forced from office in 2015. Settling her claims eventually cost the state $1.5 million.

Before the recent allegations, Ritter enjoyed a stellar career in Georgia government. After 18 years in the State Attorney General’s office he was appointed to lead the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission in 2015.

He had inherited a 150 case backlog from Kalberman, which he successfully cleared to much fanfare by June 2017.

The Executive Secretary position at the Georgia ethics commission is currently vacant.

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