Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 20, 2013

20
Dec

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 20, 2013

Don Balfour acquitted of all charges

Here are some of the numbers involved in the Balfour case:

  • Counts in indictment: 18
  • Total amount of money wrongfully paid: $2100
  • Years covered by investigation: 5
  • Days of trial and jury deliberation: 3.5
  • Fine previously paid pursuant to Senate Ethics settlement: $5000 + $366 restitution
  • Witnesses for the state: 3
  • Witnesses for the defense: up to 20
  • Days defense claimed could have been claimed but weren’t: 391
  • Miles defense claimed could have been reimbursed by weren’t: >7000

Once the acquittal was handed down, Balfour was immediately reinstated to his seat in the Senate, from which he had been suspended. He also has been voted back into the Republican caucus and regained his previous committee assignments, according to the AJC.

The Gwinnett Daily Post has video of Balfour’s first media appearance after the decision.

Statements issued after the Balfour decision

Attorney General Sam Olens

“I am very disappointed in the result of this case.  The GBI investigation revealed that Senator Balfour requested and received reimbursements for expenses he did not actually incur: miles he did not drive, days he did not work, hotels other people paid for.  Those requests were too numerous and systematic to be simply isolated mistakes.  If those requests had been submitted by an unelected state employee, they would have been prosecuted, and a state senator should not be held to a lower standard.  I was convinced that this case should be brought.  A grand jury agreed.

At the same time, I have great respect for our jury system generally and for the specific jury that was seated in this case.  I thank the jurors for their service and accept their decision, which is final.  I also thank Judge Newkirk for handling this case fairly and efficiently.

I do not apologize for standing for the principle that no person is above the law.  I will never apologize for that principle.  And I will continue to work every day for the people of Georgia and for the rule of law.”

Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer

“I am sure the verdict is an enormous relief to Senator Balfour and his family.

“We have adopted procedures that will prevent misuse of legislative expense accounts going forward, including regular review of expense requests by the Senate Audit Subcommittee.

“We have a duty to be the best possible stewards of the state’s dollars.”

Senator Renee Unterman

“The verdict has been reached and the people have spoken – finding Don Balfour not guilty on all counts. I am thankful to have this court case behind the Senate’s future.

“All along, I have felt distressed for Balfour’s family as well as our caucus family. It’s a relief to be able to finally move on.”

Former Lawrenceville City Council Member P.K. Martin, IV, running against Balfour

“Don Balfour has been found not guilty, but that doesn’t mean he should be re-elected. The trial painted a clear picture that Don has lost touch with his responsibilities as a State Senator. Don admitted to filing inaccurate mileage and expense reports to the state. He has shown a repeated lack of respect for public money from his nonchalance with expense reports. Elected officials have a responsibility to be good stewards of tax dollars and have the ability to focus on the needs of their constituents. Don has proven that he simply cannot be trusted to do so.”

“This entire situation is about doing what’s right, earning trust. Too many of our leaders are skating around the rules and using excuses to avoid responsibility and sacrificing the trust of the people.”

“In the State Senate, I will push to strengthen ethics laws for elected officials and push for harsher consequences for repeated accidental violations that misuse and abuse tax dollars and betray the public’s trust. More importantly, I will lead by example, do the right thing and make you proud.”

Senator Josh McKoon, to WABE 90.1 FM

“For someone who acknowledged in open court that he filed false reports with the state legislative fiscal office in order to wrongfully receive taxpayer dollars, I think that that is an offense that warrants discipline.”

 

InsiderAdvantage and Fox 5 Atlanta Commentator CEO Matt Towery to WABE

“They’re going to need him for that super-majority in the Senate that the Republicans hold,” says Towery. “So I think it’ll probably be an uncomfortable — what I would call ‘rapprochement’ — in which they all slowly become pals again.”

State Ethics Commission hires consultant

The State Ethics Commission has hired Atlanta attorney Robert Constantine, a former State Administrative Law Judge, to help run the Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission from January through May.

Commission chair Kevin Abernethy said he would be paid $4,000 a month between January and May to “ensure the agency is operating at a high level” ahead of a busy campaign season. He said the funds would come from existing accounts.

“It’s plain to everybody that the agency has a number of challenges the past six to nine months and the receiver will be in place to carry out the duties they need to,” Abernethy said.

It was clear that Constantine is an unknown to some of the board’s members. Commissioner Hillary Stringfellow said she hadn’t even seen his resume. But Abernethy said he was confident Constantine could serve as a consultant, an intermediary and even a referee in disputes involving the commission.

I would argue that rather than yet another lawyer, the Commission should be talking to IT outsourcing vendors to take on the task of stabilizing the electronic campaign finance reporting system, which has been functioning at a slightly higher level of functionality than Healthcare.gov. But no one asked me.

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