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Balfour to pay $5,000 to settle ethics case

ATLANTA — State Sen. Don Balfour agreed Thursday to pay a $5,000 fine for illegally accepting pay for in-state work and travel on days that he was outside of Georgia and for failing to monitor the expenses filed by fellow lawmakers.

The settlement marks the first time the Senate Ethics Committee has fined a lawmaker in at least 30 years and perhaps longer, said Sen. George Hooks, a committee member and the longest-serving senator now in the chamber. The deal means Balfour will not face a public hearing on the accusations ahead of the November general election.

"I inadvertently made some mistakes," Balfour said shortly before the deal was announced. "I've corrected those mistakes and we're talking to the committee about them."

Not only did Balfour violate the rules, he was responsible for enforcing them. As chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, Balfour was allowed to claim more out-of-session pay than rank-and-file senators. His committee was supposed to form a subcommittee to examine the vouchers filed by senators at least once every two months. Balfour said Thursday that he never fulfilled those duties.

Debbie Dooley, a coordinator for the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, filed one of the complaints against Balfour and criticized the penalty as a "slap on the wrist." She said voters deserved to hear Balfour's explanation in a public hearing. Instead, the case was resolved behind closed doors.

"The attitude of the voter and grassroots is that the Senate chamber is a good-old boy network that actually takes care of their own, covers up for their own," said Dooley, who said she plans to ask prosecutors to investigate whether Balfour committed a crime.

Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, was the lone vote against the agreement because he said it was too lax.

Balfour ran afoul of a combination of state law and internal rules governing the expense reimbursement system for Georgia lawmakers. Legislators can claim flat-rate daily pay and seek travel reimbursements for conducting official business inside Georgia when the General Assembly is not meeting as part of its annual 40-day session. They can only claim out-of-state expenses if traveling as part of a delegation approved in advance by legislative leaders.

Knowingly violating those laws can carry a maximum $1,000 fine or up to five years in prison should a prosecutor press charges. Balfour does not face any criminal charges, and his attorney, Robert Highsmith, said he was unaware of any law enforcement agency pursuing the matter.

The case started when a resident, Stephen Michael Christian, filed a complaint with the committee accusing Balfour of improperly claiming expense pay. Dooley later filed a similar complaint. While the Ethics Committee decided it lacked jurisdiction over those complaints, it decided to investigate the accusations itself.

In its report, the committee identified 18 days where Balfour improperly filed for pay or expenses. For example, Balfour claimed flat-rate payments and mileage for traveling from his home in Snellville to Atlanta on Aug. 4-5, 2011. Lobbying reports show he was elsewhere. Georgia Power lobbyist Glennis Barnes paid $50 so Balfour could go on a tour in New Orleans on Aug. 5, according to lobbying reports.

The senior Republican also claimed pay and roundtrip commuting expenses from his home to Atlanta on Aug. 8-12, 2011. But lobbyist reports show Balfour was actually attending a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Texas for several of those days.

On Aug. 9, Georgia Municipal Association lobbyist Tom Gehl bought Balfour salad and lasagna at a San Antonio restaurant, according to state records. The following day, Georgia Chemistry Council lobbyist Rudy Underwood reported buying Balfour lunch at the NCSL conference. The report does not say where they ate.

Balfour previously repaid the state about $800 in disputed expenses. As part of the agreement, Balfour must pay another $367 to reimburse the state for pay or expenses that he should not have claimed. Those reimbursements are separate from the $5,000 fine.

So far, the accusations have not hurt Balfour politically. He easily defeated two Republican challengers, Travis Bowden and Steve Ramey, in the GOP primary on July 31. He faces Democratic candidate Scott Drake of Lawrenceville in the Nov. 6 general election.

Comments

R 1 year, 8 months ago

He was for all purposes reelected so now out come the wet noodles...

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Coolray 1 year, 8 months ago

Not guilty! Senator Balfour is rightfully entitled to anything he can steal. Drop this non sense now.

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R 1 year, 8 months ago

The wet noodles were cooked in HOT water …. ouch!

WOW … try this in the PRIVATE Sector and you get CANNED...

I wonder if he keeps his Senate Leadership role without restrictions?

"As part of the deal, Balfour must reimburse the state about $367 in expense pay and also establish an audit committee to oversee expense filings by lawmakers."

The same oversight committee that HE was supposed to already have established WHICH was already REQUIRED by State law BEFORE these charges were filed, but he FAILED to get around to it …

Too much travel time out of state while he was also working here we guess…

HELLO State Republicans!!! Your voter bases are REALLY watching (Somewhere)

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notblind 1 year, 8 months ago

"I inadvertently..." got caught.

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Coolray 1 year, 8 months ago

This is repukelicrate governance at it's finest. The sheeple lose again but they're the ones who elect this type of scum to office and get exactly what they deserve.

Thanks Donny boy, now get back to stealing like you've done for the last 20 years.

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Don_Coyote 1 year, 8 months ago

I guess it is appropriate that Georgia Power had paid for his New Orleans trip since Republicans in Gwinnett have achieved the old "dead girl or live boy" status once touted by Louisiana's then Governor Edwin Edwards.

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JohnCook 1 year, 8 months ago

Isn't it a shame that neither Republicans nor Democrats will police their own? There's a motto down at the Capitol among our legislators that says, "We protect our own." They did.

Do they honestly expect us to feel better that they finally, "after at least 30 years," decided that one of their members did something egregious enough to give a slap on the wrist instead of completely covering up the misdeed?

Did he really say "inadvertently made some mistakes?" Was the inadvertent mistake that he didn't expect to get caught?

His Senate biography http://www1.legis.ga.gov/legis/1999_00/senate/gass09.htm says he is "a member of the American Institute of CPA's and the Georgia Society of CPA's." Are we expected to believe that a professional accountant trained to keep an accurate account of expenses would inadvertently make that many "mistakes" regarding falsified expenses when he was not even in town? I wonder if the Georgia Board of Accountancy would be interested in an accountant that steals from the Georgia treasury and files false reports. Probably not since he is a "powerful" State Senator and the Board is appointed by the Governor.

And isn't it shocking and a surprise that "Balfour does not face any criminal charges?"

What's that question regarding moral turpitude? http://www.gapsc.com/Ethics/MoralTurpitude.asp . . . “does the [crime], disregarding its felony punishment, meet the test as being contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, good morals or man’s duty to man?”

I got the impression that he signed his name swearing accuracy of all of those false reports for those "18 days." Would you merely get a slap on the wrist if you did the same?

He was also not a proponent of the legislation to cap lobbyists gifts to himself before he got caught in this disgraceful affair.

His re-election campaign website brags about his efforts for ethics reform. If you read the legislation, you may come to the conclusion that they define bribe differently from the dictionary so they won't have to go to jail for accepting them!

This is an embarrassment to Georgia and Gwinnett and to all Republicans! He does face opposition in November. Is it time to send a shot across the bow, or will you glibly vote to re-elect a crook?

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agneskravitz 1 year, 8 months ago

You know folks, you COULD vote for his opponent in November. Jeez.... what a concept!

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teelee 1 year, 8 months ago

Come on the job has to have a few perks! Lol! How about Obama and his looting of the people? Solyndra 500 million dollars and poof, gone!

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BuzzG 1 year, 8 months ago

Thanks very much to Debbie Dooley and the Georgia Tea Party for spotting this and jumping on it. Power to the people!

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Kent 1 year, 8 months ago

She must have blinders on with her full support of Mike Beaudreau. Evidently the Tea Party has gone off the track. Perhaps a new engineer would be in order.

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kevin 1 year, 8 months ago

I am not for stealing via your position. However, isn't it strange that this guy is fined more than Mr. Kenerly (former Gwinbett BOC) was hit for and he is accused of stealing millions? Where is equal justice between these two incidents? Don't people question anything that smells like a rat?

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R 1 year, 8 months ago

Heck we are all still waiting to see if "ANY" justice will occur in the Kennerly matter.

Have ANY sentences actually stuck or are we still waiting for the clocks on the involved statues of limitations? As far as we can see out in the serfdom, he just lost some magic cashflow…

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Braveshopr 1 year, 8 months ago

"So far, the accusations have not hurt Balfour politically. He easily defeated two Republican challengers"

Incredible.

If the people keep voting him in, either they are too stupid to know better or they simply don't care. If you continue to elect scammers, don't be surprised if he/she puts the screws to you.

Electing someone with no scruples also sends a message to the rest of the flock - they can do the same.

" ..and for failing to monitor the expenses filed by fellow lawmakers." Good thing he wasn't elected to be a traffic control monitor.

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Coolray 1 year, 8 months ago

Politics is Gwinnett has fallen into a disgraceful culture of cronyism and curruption. The swamp should have been drained long ago but the voters are far too disengaged to clean house. Unfortunately, the pols know this and, thus, the rampant abuse of power continues unabated.

Don Balfour stole money from taxpayers over and over again. You cannot get around this. Yet he faces no criminal charges at all. He failed to carry out the basic functions of his legislative post, Rules Committee Chair, yet he faces no sanctions at all.

This shows why pols have no respect for the people or positions of power they hold.

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Kent 1 year, 8 months ago

Mr. Balfour is another politician who should have been voted out years ago, yet amazingly continues to be put back in office. As he said, "If the voters do not like what I do they could vote me out of office". It is a shame that those active voters who do pay attention and are well informed are less in numbers than the voters who are either ignorant or just plain stupid.

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Dubbin 1 year, 7 months ago

The Senate Ethics Committee: By the crooks, of the crooks and for the crooks. Dedicated to the propoisition that sleazy, unethical politicians shall not perish from our State House.

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