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.
Sen. Don Balfour, conceding he could not have been in two places at once, has returned nearly $800 to Georgia taxpayers. As Atlanta Unfiltered reported in February, Balfour claimed that much in expenses for working on state business in Atlanta on days when lobbyists said they had treated him for meals or entertainment at out-of-town conferences.
Four years ago, a lobbyist and a state senator completed a casual real estate deal at an iconic Atlanta-area restaurant. No money appeared to change hands, suggesting a gift worth tens of thousands of dollars, and the senator did not disclose he had acquired a condo in the deal. Both parties now say the paperwork was incorrect. The circumstances illustrate the frequently close relationships between the lobbyists and the lobbied and underscore the importance of fully understanding the information conveyed in public records.