(Updated July 26, 2012 with another $2 million in donations) Advocates promoting the “Untie Atlanta” campaign for a transportation sales tax have raised nearly $6 million, topped by donations from real estate interests and highway contractors, newly released disclosures show. Four of the top six cash donors — the National Association of Realtors, the Georgia Highway Contractors Association, heavy equipment suppliers Yancey Brothers Co. and C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. Inc. — kicked in $981,000 among them.
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.
If I didn’t know better, I’d be outraged by the allegedly shameful and irresponsible conduct of the Center for Public Integrity, called to our attention Thursday in the AJC. But I do know better, so please allow me to explain how Rick Thompson’s opinion piece ignored CPI’s findings about Georgia’s limp anti-corruption laws while building a straw man that could easily be ripped apart.
The funds used to fly House Speaker David Ralston’s family to Europe last Thanksgiving were not taxpayers’ dollars — but, quite possibly, they used to be. Chris Brady, the lobbyist who paid for the $17,279 trip, is also a Georgia DOT subcontractor whose firm has pocketed at least $458,000 since 2007 as part of a team studying a possible high-speed Atlanta-to-Chattanooga transit line.
Rep. Ralston, who championed a 2010 law that he touted as ethics reform, accepted a $17,279 lobbyist-funded trip to Europe later that year for himself, his chief of staff and their families. Ralston has had recurring tax difficulties, facing state and federal tax liens of more than $500,000, and he’s needed a little help paying off those debts.
Delta Air Lines posted third-quarter profit of $549 million today, thanks to fare increases and strong corporate travel, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. So why exactly did Delta need a $15 million-a-year exemption from sales taxes on jet fuel? You’ll have to ask the Georgia General Assembly
The state’s top two ethics investigators were preparing in June to serve subpoenas on Gov. Nathan Deal, his chief of staff and other associates in connection with Deal’s 2010 campaign when one investigator’s salary was cut and the other’s job was eliminated. Drafts of subpoenas prepared, but never served, by the staff of the state ethics commission raise questions about $322,000 the campaign paid to companies that Deal owns or has an interest in, or to businesses controlled by his associates.
Fellow travelers Vincent Fort and Jim Wooten are among those who think Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, needs to resign over the chamber’s complicity in covering up the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal. If he does, Williams will leave behind an annual salary nearing 7 figures.
Rep. Earl Ehrhart knows how to take care of his own. Ehrhart — CEO of a non-profit group that helps donors get state tax credits for gifts to religious schools — sponsored a new law in 2011 that raises the limit on those credits and eases restrictions on how contributions may be spent. The Cobb County lawmaker has never disclosed his role with the non-profit on disclosure forms mandated by state law.
House Speaker David Ralston and other lawmakers learn today whether lobbyists’ spending on gifts for officials’ spouses and families must be disclosed publicly, when the State Campaign Finance Commission considers an advisory opinion on that point. An attorney close to the speaker requested the opinion Feb. 11, just a few days after a complaint was filed over a $17,280 trip to Europe for Ralston, his chief of staff and their families. A lobbyist promoting high-speed rail paid for the jaunt.
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.
Enforcers of Georgia’s ethics laws are stuck in limbo, if not outright paralysis — a legacy of the Glenn Richardson years at the state Legislature. They’re wondering whether new leadership under the Gold Dome cares enough to set things right. In 2009, on Richardson’s watch, the Georgia House pushed through language stripping the State Ethics Commission of its rule-making power. Now the panel needs to adopt new rules to carry out subsequent legislative changes to ethics laws. But, says executive secretary Stacey Kalberman said, “It appears that we don’t have authority to do anything.”