Well, we have a written response from Don Balfour regarding the unfortunate situtaion he’s found himself in. Balfour agreed to pay a $5,000 fine yesterday for stealing $1,150 dollars from taxpayers. He’s also had to pay that money back. He also has been told that it would be a good idea if he followed state law that he’s been ignoring for years regarding his requirement to have an audit sub-committee. This is where the lies continue. His email:
Dear Caucus Mebers,
FYI, I want to make you aware of this. I am sending this letter to the Lieutenant Governor.
August 23, 2012
Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle
Room 240, State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334
Dear Lieutenant Cagle:
It has been brought to my attention that, before my watch as Rules Chairman, a law was passed authorizing the Senate Rules Committee to appoint a Senate Audit Subcommittee.
And it was, further, brought to my attention that during the Joe Frank Harris’ administration, the Senate decided to discontinue this authorization and not have an audit subcommittee because the Senate felt that sufficient procedures were in place that eliminated the need for this added expense to the state for not less than once every two months meetings, that essentially only served to review senator’s expenses that the Fiscal Affairs Office had already reviewed and approved.
However, since the existence of this law has been brought to my attention, as Chairman, I have decided to reinstitute the Senate Audit Subcommittee of the Rules Committee, unless and until this law is removed off the books. In this regard, I am appointing the following Senators to serve on the Senate Audit Subcommittee from now until January, 2013.
Senator Bill Hamrick, Chairman
Senator Greg Goggins
Senator John Bulloch
Senator Johnny Grant
Senator Jack Hill
Senator Bill Hamrick will serve as Chairman of this subcommittee. This subcommittee will meet not less than once every 2 months, to review Senators’ expense reports that will be provided to this subcommittee from the Fiscal Affairs Office.
9th Senatorial District
The first problem here? Balfour has known about the audit subcommittee requirement since at least 2010, as reported from this AJC story by Aaron Gould Sheinin:
Lawmakers don’t have to submit receipts to justify the $173 expense or keep a mileage log or even document the mileage driven. But once a month, the Fiscal Office produces a report detailing how much each lawmaker was paid in travel and expenses. In the House, the report goes to Rep. Chuck Sims (R-Ambrose), the chairman of the Committee on Information and Audits. In the Senate, it goes to Balfour, the Rules Committee chairman.
Sims said he checks the report each month, as required by state law. If anything looks unusual or raises a red flag, he’ll alert the speaker. Balfour said he looks it over.
But state law says that the Senate Rules Committee must have an audits subcommittee “to examine and review, not less than once every two months, legislative expenditures, including all vouchers submitted by members of the Senate, as provided for in this Code section, for which the members have received payment. The subcommittee is authorized to issue reports of its examination and review.”
No such subcommittee exists.
Balfour has knowingly violated state law for at least two years by not having an audit subcommittee to review expense reports. Those same expense reports he has used to steal money from the taxpayers. His collegues have also known about this, but refused to stand up to him, demand accountability, or that he operate his commiteee within the required laws of the state of Georgia.
They’ve started with a $5,000 fine. Minimal and offensive to someone who has flauted law and his position of power for personal gain. More is required of the Senate in this situation. Each Republican Senator is now complicit, with the exception of Senator Josh McKoon who continues to be the chamber’s lone voice in speaking out against inherent institutional corruption.
And about his newly appointed subcommittee? It’s the capitol’s worst kept secret that subcommittee Chairman Hamrick will be appointed judge in the next few weeks. Greg Goggins is retiring. Johnny Grant lost in last month’s primary. 3 of 5 members of this new subcommittee won’t be Senators in January.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
It’s business as usual in the Senate.