When the Center for Public Integrity released its report on the state of state ethics March 19, 2012, Georgia was ranked dead last. The response from House Ethics Committee Chairman Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, was to shoot the messenger. He said he was blindsided and (from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
“To have Georgia’s laws judged by a blogger instead of a regulatory official, as has been done in the past, is of great concern,” he [Wilkinson] said. “Based on previous discussions with the Center for Public Integrity, we were under the assumption that the 2012 rankings would show Georgia in the top five states.”Who is this blogger?
Atlanta Unfiltered is run by former AJC editor and reporter Jim Walls, who believes "transparency is too important to be left to the politicians." But, even Wilkinson should know - this isn't about a blogger. It's about the state's lack of public corruption laws.
CPI used Walls to make an assessment of ethics rules and laws pertaining to elected officials and their dealings with, among other things, the public's money.
What may have gotten Wilkinson so upset too is that the same group found:
A prior CPI study on financial disclosure rules for state legislators ranked Georgia seventh in the nation. Wilkinson has trumpeted the ranking in recent months in rebuttal of calls for tougher ethics laws.It's these disclosures that may have gotten at least one powerful state Senator in a pinch, because without them, it doesn't appear we'd know anything about his apparent lack of respect for taxpayer money (you might say theft of taxpayer money).
Enter Senator Don Balfour, a Republican from Snellville, who today is trying to explain how he could be in two places at once.
Again...uncovered by a blogger, Atlanta Unfiltered, who calls Balfour "Georgia's $100,000 senator".
Balfour chairs the state Senate Rules Committee, and while I haven't heard any squawking from Balfour about the low state of ethics in Georgia, he has dislcosed (and his lobbyist friends had to disclose) himself into a pickle.
From the AJC:
Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, has returned nearly $800 to the state after it was revealed he improperly billed the Senate for mileage for two incidents in 2011 when he was actually out of town at conferences. But an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis has found similar conflicts in Balfour's reimbursements dating back to 2009.Watch-dog journalism, blogger and MSM teaming up. Gotta love it. Here are some other questionable reimbursements from Balfour's past:
The AJC analysis shows that in addition to the August incidents, Balfour:As a result, will Georgia pass the ethics laws it really needs? Only if Governor Nathan (I've been investigated too) Deal gets on board.
Claimed mileage for June 6-10, 2011. However, lobbyists disclosed treating Balfour to meals and hotel rooms during much of that time.
On the night of June 5, Tony Simon, a lobbyist with ConnectSouth, paid $58.51 for Balfour's lodging for a Georgia Retail Association conference at the King and Prince on St. Simons Island. To qualify for the reimbursement, Balfour would have had to stay the night of June 5, drive home to Snellville on June 6 and then go back and forth between Snellville and Atlanta to earn the reimbursement.
But, on June 6, Stephen Loftin, a lobbyist for the Cable Television Association of Georgia, reported paying for Balfour's hotel room ($524.16) for the summer conference of the CTAG. Balfour attended an awards dinner that night.
Also, on June 9, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce paid $524.16 for Balfour to attend its spring meeting, which also was held at the King and Prince on St. Simons.
Claimed mileage from Snellville to Atlanta and back for July 13, 2011, the same time a lobbyist disclosed Balfour was in Florida.
Kathy Kuzava, lobbyist for the Georgia Food Industry Association, reported that she paid $409.40 for Balfour to travel to the association's annual conference, which was held at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, Fla., on the same day.
Claimed mileage for Oct. 12, 2011, the same day that Monty Veazey, a lobbyist for the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, said he paid $323 for Balfour's lodging.
Claimed mileage for Nov. 29, 2011. According to a disclosure filed by Henry Turner, a lobbyist for Altria, he paid $149.61 for a dinner for Balfour while attending the Republican Governors Association's annual meeting in Orlando.
Claimed mileage for Nov. 30, 2011. However, on Dec. 1, Callie Brooks Michael, a lobbyist for Southern Strategy Group, said she spent $66 on an Epcot Center ticket for Balfour, which means he was still in Orlando. On Dec. 2, Michael also paid for two nights' lodging for Balfour in Orlando.
Claimed mileage for Dec. 1 and Dec. 2, 2009. On Dec. 2, however, lobbyist Brian Hudson reported paying $53.15 for Balfour's dinner during an ALEC meeting in Washington.