Did Senate reimburse majority leader for $8K paid by campaign?
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By JIM WALLS
UPDATE, Sept. 26, 2012 — Chip Rogers has reimbursed his campaign $8,500 even though he didn’t have to, according to attorney Doug Chalmers. He said the Senate reimbursement requests were allowed because the content of the mailings was legitimate and the campaign owed Rogers much more money than that. Rogers cut the check, though, “to avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” Chalmers said.
Sept. 19, 2012 – Georgia taxpayers reimbursed Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers this year for thousands of dollars in expenses that appear to have been paid by his re-election committee, a review of campaign and legislative records shows.
Rogers submitted invoices to the Legislative Fiscal Office in April and May for $6,688 in printing and mailing costs. His campaign committee reported paying identical amounts to the same vendors on approximately the same dates that are printed on those invoices.
The Legislature also reimbursed Rogers in 2003 and 2005 for three payments totaling $1,471 for costs that appear to have been paid by his campaign committee, records show.
Invoices for the 2012 mailings carry the notation “property tax letter” or “Constitution letter” — topics that could qualify for reimbursement as public business. Each year, Rogers mails a letter reminding constituents to file for a homestead exemption that could reduce their property tax bills.
State law requires, however, that legislators personally incur expenses for which they seek reimbursement:
O.C.G.A. § 28-1-8 (c) No member shall receive any expense allowance, mileage allowance, or travel allowance for service as a member of any committee, board, bureau, commission, or other agency, as provided for in this Code section, unless such member has personally performed the service and has personally incurred the expense for mileage or travel. Each member of the General Assembly submitting a voucher shall certify that such member personally performed the service and personally incurred the expense for mileage or travel covered by the voucher and that the information contained on the voucher is true and correct. The voucher shall contain such a certificate which the member must sign.
Rogers turned in signed, notarized reimbursement requests in which he swore that he had paid these expenses.
Knowingly submitting a false certificate is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or one to five years in prison.
Robert Trim, a political aide to Rogers, said last week and again Monday that he would try to provide more information on the campaign payments. Trim did not respond with those details.
Senate expense accounts are not audited. The Legislative Fiscal Office questions some expense claims, occasionally kicking them back for more documentation or declining to pay. Longtime Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour, though, only recently named a subcommittee, required by state law, to audit senators’ expense accounts.
The Senate Ethics Committee last month fined Balfour $5,000 for making false expense claims (as first reported by Atlanta Unfiltered in February) and for failing to appoint that audit committee. Balfour has said those claims, which are now being investigated by the GBI, were submitted inadvertently.
Legislators may be reimbursed for up to $7,000 a year for expenses that are related to public business. Many use those funds to pay for mileage and travel expenses, aides’ salaries, office furnishings, laptops and other computer equipment.
Two of the invoices submitted for Senate reimbursement list Friends of Chip Rogers, the senators’ campaign committee, as the purchaser of the print jobs.
The Legislative Fiscal Office questioned Rogers’ staff about those invoices when they came in. Fiscal Officer Robyn Underwood called the majority leader’s office again last week, after Atlanta Unfiltered inquired about them, and was assured the expenses were legitimate.
Underwood then wrote a note on two of the invoices that said they were paid with personal funds.
Here’s a breakdown of the expenses in question with links to download the source documents:
$639.44, Data Productions Inc., Aug. 19, 2003: On this date, Rogers’ campaign reported, it paid Duluth-based Data Productions Inc. $639.44 for mailing and postage. An Aug. 18 invoice from Data Productions submitted for Senate reimbursement shows a $639.44 “credit for postage check received.”
$531.77, Cherokee Ledger-News, May 18, 2005: On this date, the campaign reported, it paid $537.85 to the Woodstock-based newspaper for “distribution.” The Senate reimbursed Rogers for a May 26 invoice from the Ledger-News for $531.77 for distribution of 17,000-plus inserts.
$300, Olde Towne Gazette, May 23, 2005: The campaign said it paid $300 to the Olde Towne Gazette on this date for “distribution.” The Senate reimbursed Rogers for $300 based on a May 23 invoice from the Gazette for 12,000 newsletter inserts.
$750, ProTech Printing & Graphics, February 2012: Rogers’ campaign committee reported a Feb. 22 payment of $750 to this Kennesaw-based printer. The Senate reimbursed Rogers in May after he submitted a Pro Tech invoice for that amount dated Feb. 29.
$2,014, ProTech Printing & Graphics, March and April 2012: Rogers’ campaign reported payments of $400 on March 13 and $1,614 on April 10 to ProTech. The Senate reimbursed Rogers in May for $2,014 based on a March 9 invoice from ProTech for that amount.
$2,932.88 (of $3,000 payment), 1st Class Mailing Services Inc., March 2012: Rogers’ campaign reported a March 16 payment of $3,000 to the U.S. Postal Service for postage. A March 13 invoice shows payment of $3,000 to 1st Class Mailing, which included $2,932.88 for postage. On May 7, Rogers requested reimbursement from his Senate account of $3,924.83 — the sum of the postage expense on 1st Class Mailing invoices dated March 13 and April 10.
$991.95 (of $1,300 payment) 1st Class Mailing Services Inc., April 10, 2012: Rogers’ campaign reported an April 10 payment of $1,300 for postage to 1st Class Mailing Service Inc. An April 10 invoice from 1st Class Mailing showed a partial payment of $1,300, which included $991.95 for postage. On May 7, Rogers requested reimbursement from his Senate account of $3,924.83 — the sum of the postage expense on 1st Class Mailing invoices dated March 13 and April 10.