Nov. 13, 2013 — Don Balfour was suspended from the Georgia Senate today over expense account discrepancies first reported by Atlanta Unfiltered in February 2012. Our examination of the senator’s 2011 expense account found Balfour had claimed per diem and mileage reimbursements for several days when he was out of state and therefore ineligible for them. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution later dug up similar examples from prior years.
The Senate Ethics Committee order Balfour to pay a $5,000 fine over the discrepancies, and a Fulton County grand jury indicted him in September for 18 counts of making false expense claims. Records show Balfour’s campaign committee last year paid nearly $80,000 in legal fees to defend him in those cases.
March 26, 2013 — To Georgia legislators: As you struggle toward a compromise on ethics “reform,” here are five suggestions that would REALLY help to restore Georgians’ faith in government.
1) Limit lobbyist gifts to $25 per day, with a limit of four per year. That allows them to buy you a meal and a beer, but not the bottles of wine that really drive up the cost up of these $100 meals. And no gifts for spouses. Pay for those yourselves. Suck it up.
They are runaways, truants, curfew violators, underage smokers and drinkers. They’re called status offenders because their actions are only an issue due to their status as juveniles; if an adult did the same thing, it wouldn’t be a crime. Now, a report commissioned by the Governor’s Office for Children and Families warns that Georgia could lose $2 million a year in federal funding if it continues locking them up at current rates.
Georgia’s juvenile court judges face a new, unprecedented set of challenges that could separate kids from their parents and make the state an “asylum” for runaway delinquents. As of Friday, Georgia will have no way to track down juvenile offenders who run away to avoid arrest or to return other states’ offenders who’ve fled to Georgia.
Georgia legislators last week took back an extra $30,000 budgeted to enforce ethics laws in 2012, leaving the State Campaign Finance Commission yet again to do more paper-shuffling and less investigating. “We really only have time to go after the most egregious of cases,” executive secretary Stacey Kalberman said.
Picture a few Georgia legislators in a karaoke bar, swaying back and forth and belting out the Stone’s “Under My Thumb.” Or maybe a little Cee Lo. That should give you a good sense of the message that lawmakers sent last week to the State Campaign Finance Commission. Gov. Nathan Deal has already signed an ethics bill that gives the commission more work and more expenses and rebuffs a bid to restore some of its power.
The top three Republicans in the Georgia House — all now going or gone from their seats — held on to power in part by giving $1.4 million since 2005 to other GOP candidates and causes. Then scandal brought down Speaker Glenn Richardson. Several dozen Georgia legislators from both parties want to cap donations from one candidate to another, but they may have an uphill battle.
Each year, lobbyists organize and pay for lunches at hot spots like The 191 Club, day trips and other events – some costing thousands of dollars — to entertain the spouses of Georgia legislators. No one knows the total price tag. Or, at least, the ones who know aren’t always saying.
Georgia legislators cannot accept campaign contributions while they are in session. Except when they can. Four lawmakers running for Congress collected more than $343,000 in campaign funds between them while the General Assembly was in session this year, federal campaign filings show. Rep. Clay Cox, seeking the seat being vacated by Congressman John Linder, led the pack with $114,712.
Twenty-one Georgia legislators accepted gifts valued at $5,000 or more from lobbyists last year. Led by Senate majority leader Chip Rogers, the 21 legislators accounted for 10 percent of the $1.5 million in lobbyist handouts last year. We’re talking gift baskets, food and drink, golf, sports and concert tickets, lodging and airfare. These are the lawmakers who can’t say no.
Which lobbyists would be hit hardest by a proposed ban on $100-plus gifts to Georgia legislators? Hint: Lobbyist Dene Herbert Sheheane and the others hand out a lot of tickets to ballgames.
Better late than never: Four Georgia legislators, including Rep. Sheila Jones of Atlanta, filed personal financial disclosures last week for 2008. Some, we’re told, even mentioned Atlanta Unfiltered when they made sure the state received their reports. That leaves 10 Democrats who still haven’t filed. UP NEXT: We’ll take a closer look at where the money’s flowing in the Legislature, and to whom. One hint: It ain’t to the Democrats.