WASHINGTON – The late Rep. Charlie Norwood's campaign treated his supporters to a $63,000 thank-you weekend at a golf resort two months after he died, the same weekend the candidate endorsed by Norwood's family held a fundraiser at the same resort, reports and interviews show.
Norwood officials said the events were unrelated, and the Norwood expenditures were for a reservation booked before his death that could not be canceled. They said the spending did not benefit the campaign of former state Sen. Jim Whitehead.
Whitehead was widely considered the front-runner to replace Norwood, but another Republican, Paul Broun of Athens, finished last week's runoff election with a 400-vote lead. The results have not been certified, and Whitehead has not conceded.
Norwood had more than $700,000 in his campaign account when he died Feb. 13. Federal law allows a variety of uses for the money, including donations to charities or limited contributions to political parties or campaigns.
The law bars expenditures for personal benefit, and it sets a $2,000 cap on the value of gifts or contributions from one individual campaign committee to another.
Norwood's campaign finance reports show two expenditures — on April 20 and May 17 — totaling $63,200 to the Ritz Carlton resort on Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga.
Amelia Brown, a campaign manager paid by both the Whitehead and Norwood committees in recent months, said the Norwood campaign had reserved a weekend package for a fundraiser at the resort a year previously and the hotel wouldn't cancel the reservation after Norwood died.
The hotel denied that account but declined to discuss it further, citing client confidentiality. Norwood campaign officials would not authorize the hotel to release more information and would not provide attendance lists for each event.
Brown said that instead of letting the rooms sit empty, the Norwood campaign invited longtime friends and supporters of the former congressman to stay at the resort for the April 20 weekend as a gesture of thanks.
Meanwhile, the Whitehead campaign scheduled its own April 20 fundraising reception at the resort, with entertainment from country music singer Mickey Gilley.
Brown said the supporters who stayed the weekend on the Norwood tab did not attend the Whitehead reception or donate money to the Whitehead campaign.
Brown said the Whitehead campaign paid for its reception with its own money, pointing to a $2,275.75 expenditure to the Ritz Carlton on May 17, which she said covered the cost of renting the resort's 5,400 square-foot Presidential House for the reception.
Larry Noble, former chief enforcement lawyer at the Federal Election Commission, said if the campaign could have gotten a refund by canceling the reservation but instead "used it for a fundraiser for another candidate, then there's a problem."