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Feb. 26, 2014 – As Cobb County proceeds with plans to subsidize a $672 million stadium for the Atlanta Braves, questions continue to surface about the transparency of county leaders’ deliberations and the accuracy of the projected public benefit and cost to taxpayers. Here’s what I’ve written on the subject recently for Atlanta Magazine’s Daily Agenda:
- Neither snow, nor sleet, nor taxpayer objection keep Cobb from fast-tracking stadium plans
- Proposed law could cloud spending details on Braves, Falcons stadiums
- What Cobb businesses might be taxed to help cover Braves stadium costs?
- Did Cobb commissioners’ briefings on Braves violate Open Meetings Act?
- Braves may seek even more millions in public assistance
- Who knew about Tim Lee’s ties to turf company before Braves deal?
As Cobb County proceeds with plans to subsidize a $672 million stadium for the Atlanta Braves, questions continue to surface about the transparency of county leaders’ deliberations and the accuracy of the projected public benefit and cost to taxpayers. Here’s what I’ve written on the subject recently in for Atlanta Magazine’s Daily Agenda:
Feb. 24, 2014 — All eyes at the Capitol fell on Rep. Sam Moore today as he tried to explain his bill to allow sex offenders to hang out next to elementary schools and day-care centers.
Nov. 14, 2013 – State ethics officials Wednesday embraced a plan for an independent performance audit to help solve their structural and public-image troubles. Voting 5-0 to seek the outside scrutiny, members of Georgia’s ethics commission expressed confidence that the state auditor would thoroughly investigate charges that the agency’s top staffer interfered in a 2012 investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal. If the audit finds “even a hint or a whiff of criminal misconduct,” chairman Kevin Abernethy said, “this board and I will ensure that appropriate prosecutorial action is taken.”
Nov. 13, 2013 — Today, Georgia’s beleaguered Campaign Finance Commission decides just how badly it wants to learn about itself and its 2012 ethics settlement with Gov. Nathan Deal. On the table when the commission meets at 9:30 a.m.: A motion to formally ask State Auditor Greg Griffin to conduct a performance audit of the agency. Then the question will be: Should the commission do more to address allegations that Deal’s office dictated the outcome of an investigation into his 2010 campaign finances? “I’m certainly not taking anything off the table,” chair Kevin Abernethy said.
Oct. 22, 2013 — State Auditor Greg Griffin, rather than the attorney general’s office, will try to sort out charges that a 2012 ethics investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal was compromised. Griffin agreed to investigate allegations that the director of the state ethics commission, after talks with key staffers in Deal’s office, ordered the case closed with a minimal penalty. The commission, which announced Griffin’s role late today, had voted last month to ask Attorney General Sam Olens to name a special assistant to review its handling of the case.
Olens, as it happened, had been mentioned
as one possible factor in Deal’s resolve to settle the case in 2012 rather than let it reach a public hearing. A commission attorney has testified she was told that the governor didn’t want Olens, a potential rival in the 2014 governor’s race, to play any role in the proceedings.
Oct. 8, 2013 — Georgia lawmakers touted their 2013 ethics bill as historic, noting that they’d restored rule-making authority to the Campaign Finance Commission. Now, though, House Speaker David Ralston’s lawyer, Doug Chalmers, contends the commission can’t enforce a key disclosure rule on campaign spending. That interpretation, if it prevails, could muzzle the watchdog charged with policing campaign finance and disclosure in Georgia. Politicians could obscure details of countless dollars in campaign spending simply by using a personal credit card and getting reimbursed with campaign funds.
Sept. 19, 2013 – Gov. Nathan Deal’s office recruited a new director for the state ethics commission just as it was ramping up a high-profile probe of his 2010 campaign, Atlanta Unfiltered has learned. A year later, the new ethics chief is alleged to have closed the investigation with a minimal penalty on orders from the governor’s office. The new, behind-the-scenes accounts of the Deal probe, emerging in two whistleblower cases, resurrect concerns about the independence of the state’s ethics enforcers and the integrity of its investigations. They also contradict denials that Deal had any role in the shake-up that cost the state’s top two ethics enforcers their jobs.
Sept. 11, 2013 – Former Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers took back control of a Cartersville radio station last year, apparently without notifying the Federal Communications Commission or his employer, Georgia Public Broadcasting. The station, tiny WYXC-AM, is at the center of an ongoing drama that’s spilled over into the courts and lit up Cartersville message boards. The current operators filed suit last month, alleging their partner had surreptitiously bought the station and kicked them out. They soon turned the tables by obtaining a court order restoring their access and denying his.
July 19, 2013 — A political committee run by close associates of Gov. Nathan Deal has pocketed at least $327,500 since 2012 without reporting it, apparently skirting disclosure rules and the federal tax code.
Major benefactors of the committee, Real PAC, include health-care interests seeking tens of millions — even billions — of dollars in business with state government. One donor, WellCare of Georgia, gave Real PAC $50,000 on the same day that state Medicaid officials said they planned to extend WellCare’s $1 billion-a-year contract for two years.
May 14, 2013 — Gov. Nathan Deal last week unexpectedly vetoed a bill that would have given $9 million in sales tax breaks to charitable medical clinics, federally qualified health centers, food banks and other charities. The measure, which breezed through the House and Senate, would have benefited many safety-net providers that expect to carry an extra patient load once the federal Affordable Care Act begins phasing out hospital subsidies for indigent care next year.
Deal’s veto message noted that a 2010 tax reform panel recommended that all non-government and non-business exemptions be allowed to expire so the Legislature could decide whether they should be renewed. He did not apply that principle, however, when he signed a bill last month extending an estimated $18 million tax break to Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., a Savannah-based manufacturer of luxury jets.
March 22, 2013 — Under the ethics bill and $100 gift cap that Georgia senators will debate today, lawmakers could continue accepting tens of thousands of dollars a year in travel expenses from corporate interests. Not only would the bill let them keep traveling to posh resorts on special interests’ tab, you often won’t even know about it. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council makes these jaunts possible. Big business and trade associations give the money to “scholarship funds” controlled by ALEC, which doles the cash out to legislators attending ALEC events.