Ex-Sen. Don Balfour: Georgia’s $100K senator
Leaders in the public sector have plenty of public resources to promote their political views, accomplishments and experience. Often the public record holds much more: personal and campaign finance disclosures, expense reports, and business, tax and court filings. Here’s what they show:
Donald Kenneth Balfour II (R-Lilburn)
District 9 (Gwinnett County)
Who says public service has to be a sacrifice? Georgia legislators love to gripe about their crappy salaries, but Balfour in 2011 knocked down at least $101,422 in publicly disclosed compensation, lobbyists’ gifts and other perks for his government service. Those benefits included:
- $17,341 annual salary
- $ 8,650 per diem for 50 legislative days
- $21,279 per diem for 123 additional committee days
- $ 4,680 mileage reimbursements for commuting from Snellville
- $13,646 lobbyist gifts
- $29,346 campaign payments to lease an Atlanta condo
- $ 6,480 additional pension benefit (based on cumulative payout over 15 years)
Balfour’s campaign spent nearly $30,000 to have the Atlanta condo available year-round. After the Legislature adjourned in April 2011, though, he requested state mileage reimbursements indicating he had driven home to Snellville on every day when he conducted public business.
In August 2012, Balfour settled a complaint filed with the Senate Ethics Committee by agreeing to pay a $5,000 fine for incorrectly claiming per diem or mileage reimbursements on 17 days in 2011 and one in 2009. A Fulton County grand jury indicted him in September 2013 for making false expense claims, and Gov. Nathan Deal suspended him from office in November 2013. A month later, he was found not guilty at trial.
Since 2003, Balfour’s campaign has reimbursed him for $17,030 of expenses without disclosing the end recipient of the money and, frequently, without listing the nature of the expense. State law requires disclosure of those details so regulators and the public can assess whether the expenditures were legitimate.
Balfour’s relationship with Marcia Rubensohn, a lobbyist for the Georgia Municipal Association, was the subject of a broadcast report by WGCL-TV/CBS 46 in 2010. The station reported that Rubensohn had bought the senator lunch 20 times over several years and that the two had traveled together on a 2009 trip to Israel.
Balfour’s financial disclosures failed to mention his involvement with the National Christian Scholarship Foundation. Registration papers filed with the Georgia secretary of state list Balfour as the foundation’s CEO and CFO in 2007 and 2008. The IRS revoked the organization’s tax-exempt status in 2011 for failing to file returns for three consecutive years.
The American Legislative Exchange Council awarded “scholarships” totaling $4,792 to Balfour from 2005 to 2009, records show. Corporate donors — including petroleum, pharmaceutical, utility, tobacco and health-care interests — funded the scholarships, which were meant to cover the costs of airfare and lodging to attend ALEC functions. The donations generally are not disclosed as lobbyist gifts, since ALEC has no registered lobbyist in Georgia.
First elected in 1992, Balfour is now the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. (A few Democrats who later switched parties were elected earlier than Balfour.) He’s drawn virtually no opposition in 20 years of elections but handily defeated Democratic challengers three times since 2004 and two Republican primary opponents in 2010. Balfour briefly entered the 7th District race for Congress in March 2010, then changed his mind and announced he was retiring from the Georgia Senate. A month later, he changed his mind again and sought re-election to his Senate seat. Before running for office, Balfour served as treasurer of Waffle House’s political action committee, WAFFLEPAC, which was dissolved by the Federal Election Commission in 1993.
- Appropriations (2003 – present)
- Banking and Financial Institutions (1993 – 1998)
- Education (1995 – 1998; 2009 – 2010)
- Ethics (2004 – 2006)
- Finance (2001 – 2002, 2013 – present)
- Governmental Operations (1993 – 1994)
- Health and Human Services (1993 – present)
- Higher Education (1993 – 1994, 1999 – 2002)
- Insurance and Labor (1997 – 2002, 2011 – 2012)
- Reapportionment (2003 – 2004, 2011 – present; chairman, 2013)
- Rules (1995 – 1996; chairman, 2003 – 2012)
- Special Judiciary (1999 – 2000)
Vice president, Waffle House Inc., where he has been employed since 1985. (His 2001 disclosure listed him as “vice president advocacy.”) Previously employed as a CPA in the tax department at Arthur Andersen. On his Facebook page, Balfour also lists the Georgia Association of Christian Schools as an employer.
Friends and family
- Joe Rogers Jr., chairman and CEO of Waffle House Inc., was Balfour’s finance chairman for his aborted run for Congress.
- Balfour’s wife, Virginia, was one of 30 plaintiffs in a lawsuit that overturned the General Assembly’s 2002 reapportionment of legislative and congressional districts.
Business ownership interests
- Waffle House Inc.
- Vice president, Waffle House Inc.
- Executive committee, National Conference of State Legislatures (president, 2009-10)
- Executive committee, NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures (UNDISCLOSED UNTIL 2012)
- Board chairman 2003-07, Family Home Providers Foundation Inc. (non-profit, dissolved in 2010)
- UNDISCLOSED: CEO/CFO, National Christian Scholarship Foundation Inc. (2007-08)
Real estate holdings
- Personal residence in Snellville valued at $305,000 for tax purposes
- Fidelity Shares Growth
- Raymond James
- Vanguard Windsor II
- Waffle House Inc.
- Wells Fargo
- Cisco Systems (last listed in 2007)
- Coca-Cola (last listed in 2007)
- Columbia Management (last listed in 2007)
- Exxon Mobil Corp. (last listed in 2007)
- General Electric Co. (last listed in 2007)
- Harley-Davidson Inc. (last listed in 2007)
- Southern Co. (last listed in 2007)
Business transactions with state government
- None disclosed
Balfour since 1992 has raised more than $2 million, 80 percent of which came since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2003. Health-care interests, including hospitals, nursing homes and insurers, are among his biggest donors. The breakdown by election cycle:
- 1991-92: $80,619
- 1993-94: $30,544
- 1995-96: $25,340
- 1997-98: $16,350
- 1999-2000: $34,419
- 2001-02: $82,213
- 2003-04: $211,829
- 2005-06: $378,640
- 2007-08: $421,085
- 2009-10: $344,061
- 2011-12 : $378,696
- 2013-14: $63,750
- Reported cash on hand (April 2014): $675,958
Don Balfour’s Top 40 Donors
- $59,050 Waffle House Inc., board chairman Joe Rogers & other executives
- $31,600 SMS Tax Incentives, Alexandria Ventures LLC, executive Charles Asensio & lobbyist Tim Norwood
- $25,900 John D. Stephens (construction)
- $24,000 Medical Association of Georgia
- $24,700 BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia
- $23,100 Georgia Hospital Association
- $20,350 Georgia Association of Realtors
- $20,150 Coca-Cola Co. & Coca-Cola Enterprises
- $19,600 Hospital Corporation of America
- $19,300 Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals
- $19,050 Home Builders Association of Georgia
- $18,300 Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
- $17,500 Georgia Power Co., Southern Co. & executives
- $16,550 Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough (lawyers and lobbyists)
- $16,000 MAG Mutual Insurance
- $15,900 Philip Morris USA and its parent company, Altria
- $14,900 United Parcel Service
- $14,750 Aetna Insurance
- $14,250 Corrections Corporation of America
- $15,100 Georgia Dental Association
- $14,750 United Health Services / Pruitt Corp. (nursing homes)
- $13,300 Georgia Chiropractic Association
- $13,100 TitleMax Management
- $13,000 Robert Quattrocchi (Northside Hospital executive)
- $13,000 Walmart
- $12,950 Mortgage Bankers Association of Georgia
- $12,800 CV Underground LLC, Aderhold/O’Leary LLC
- $12,750 Yum! Brands Inc. (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell)
- $12,650 Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Georgia
- $12,400 Georgia Health Care Association (formerly Georgia Nursing Home Association)
- $12,400 Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia
- $12,100 Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia
- $12,000 Georgia Apartment Association
- $11,950 Georgia Automobile Dealers Association
- $11,750 Georgia Optometric Association
- $11,450 Troutman Sanders LLP & lobbyist Pete Robinson
- $11,300 Joe Tanner & Associates Inc.
- $10,900 Yancey Brothers Co. (heavy construction)
- $10,500 Georgia Bankers Association
Balfour’s campaign has disclosed spending more than $89,000 to lease an apartment or condo for the senator since 2007, including:
- 2007: $7,090
- 2008: $10,800
- 2009: $18,170
- 2010: $8,950
- 2011: $29,346
- 2012: $15,676
Balfour’s campaign paid nearly $80,000 in fees in 2012 to lawyers representing him before the Senate Ethics Committee and in the criminal case.
Since 2003, Balfour’s campaign has reimbursed him for $17,692 of expenses without disclosing the end recipient of the money and, frequently, without listing the nature of the expense. State law requires disclosure of those details so regulators and the public can assess whether the expenditures were legitimate. His disclosures have listed these reimbursements since 2006.
Campaign to campaign donations
Candidates may make political donations with campaign funds, allowing prolific fund-raisers to share their contributions with other legislators or candidates. Some advocacy groups believe such transfers should be limited to an aggregate of $10,000 per election cycle. Balfour’s committee made these political donations, totaling more than $229,000:
- 2003-04: $63,500
- 2005-06: $115,500
- 2007-08: $12,500
- 2009-10: $31,850
- 2011-12 : $6,000
Balfour was once lobbyist Marcia Rubensohn’s favorite legislator. Rubensohn, who represents the Georgia Municipal Association, reported buying Balfour lunch 20 times between 2008 and February 2010, far more often than she treated any other lawmaker.
Four months later, WGCL-TV broadcast investigative reporter Wendy Saltzman’s story on Balfour’s relationship with Rubensohn. Saltzman reported that Rubensohn paid $636 for a hotel room in Savannah for Balfour for the GMA’s 2008 Convention and that they traveled together with nine legislators from other states on a 2009 trip to Israel. Balfour told Saltzman that he brought Rubensohn on the trip because they needed someone to help coordinate the trip and because she understood Jewish issues. Both Balfour and Rubensohn insisted there was nothing inappropriate about their relationship.
In 2011, six local ABC-affiliate TV stations broadcast reports on lavish spending by private businesses sponsoring events at the National Conference of State Legislature’s annual meeting in San Antonio.
One Phoenix TV station asked Balfour at a news conference if companies sponsoring these events could influence the lawmakers.
“How are they, in a bad way, influencing these legislators, when 99 percent of them don’t even know [which companies] gave them money?” Georgia Senator and NSCL Past President, Don Balfour, responded.
That is not what the ABC15 Investigators found.
We saw logos and signs, even big projection screens showing company names, making it easy for lawmakers to see who is funding the foundation and sponsoring events.
Dozens of other companies paid registration fees to be front and center inside the San Antonio conference center’s exhibit hall.
When they were not at sessions, lawmakers and their staff sampled beer provided by beer industry lobbyists and received chair massages from a Texas energy company.
All told, lobbyists have reported paying for meals and other gifts for Balfour valued at more than $75,000 since 2005. The big spenders: University System of Georgia ($6,939), Georgia World Congress Center Authority ($5,222), Georgia Chamber of Commerce ($4,370), Georgia Food Industry Association ($3,576), Georgia Power Co. ($2,914).
Total spending broken down by year:
- 2005: $7,056
- 2006: $6,365
- 2007: $9,198
- 2008: $9,871
- 2009: $11,543
- 2010: $6,852
- 2011: $13,242
- 2012: $5,273
- 2013: $3,982
- 2014: $515 through March 31
Committee days & travel expenses
When the Legislature is out of session, members may collect $173 per diem, plus mileage, for committee meetings or other official business. (Per diem was $127 prior to 2007.) Lawmakers living within 50 miles of the Capitol are taxed on these payments, which were originally intended to cover out-of-town members’ food and lodging. Here’s the annual breakdown, based on the year in which the expenses were paid:
- 2001: $4,901 (20 days)
- 2002: $5,154 (21 days)
- 2003: $15,029 (62 days) #7 in Senate
- 2004: $15,279 (76 days) #3 in Senate
- 2005: $19,390 (85 days) #2 in Senate
- 2006: $20,227 (119 days) #1 in Senate
- 2007: $18,099 (74 days) #7 in Senate
- 2008: $23,551 (95 days) #1 in Senate
- 2009: $14,872 (65 days) #7 in Senate
- 2010: $16,881 (82 days) #2 in Senate
- 2011: $26,022 (126 days) #1 in Senate
- 2012: $5,336 (24 days)
- 2013: $5,740 (29 days)
- 2014: $6,853 (33 days)
(Research by Elizabeth Weinstein and Jim Walls)
Posted Feb. 10, 2012; last updated Jan. 26, 2015