Photo by Michael Buckelew
ATLANTA (AP) — A tea party leader filed a new ethics complaint Thursday accusing state Sen. Don Balfour of improperly seeking reimbursements for conducting official business on days when lobbyists reported buying him meals and other perks far from the state Capitol.
The complaint from Debbie Dooley, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, was handed to the Senate Ethics Committee. It adds more details to similar allegations first raised by Atlanta Unfiltered, a government watchdog website, and in an earlier ethics complaint. Lawmakers on the Senate Ethics Committee met this month to discuss the first complaint but have not publicly announced what they plan to do.
Dooley said her group decided to file a new complaint to correct defects in the first complaint, adding she hopes it would prod the committee to move forward.
"We had to provide more detail and prove why it's pertinent to the committee and prove that they have the legal ground to take action on it," she said.
Balfour, the chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, said the Ethics Committee has not told him when it will meet next on his case or asked him for any information about the disputed expenses. He said refiling a complaint "smacks of campaign politics" and that he looked forward to answering questions about his expense claims.
"I already corrected my records before even the first complaint was filed because any errors were inadvertent and involved relatively small amounts over the course of several years," Balfour said in a statement.
The chairman of the Ethics Committee, Sen. John Crosby, R-Tifton, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Dooley's complaint alleges that Balfour improperly claimed state pay and mileage expenses on at least 10 days when lobbyists reported he was out of state or at least far from the state Capitol. For example, Balfour claimed state pay and travel expenses for Aug. 5, 2011, the same day a state lobbyist paid for him to take a tour in New Orleans.
In another instance, the Republican lawmaker claimed daily pay and travel expenses on July 13, 2011. On that same day, a lobbyist for the Georgia Food Industry Association paid for Balfour to stay at a hotel in Destin, Fla., on the Gulf Coast.
Balfour earlier this year repaid the state for nearly $800 in disputed expenses. He said he corrected his expense reports for the days that were previously questioned. On some days, Balfour said he claimed too much in expenses, but on others he failed to collect as much as he should have. In the end, Balfour said the state owed him about $13, which he did not claim.