Politics

Influential Georgia Lawmaker Fined in Ethics Settlement

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The Senate Ethics Committee has fined Sen. Don Balfour, chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, $5,000 for filing inaccurate expense reports.

The Snellville Republican improperly billed the state more than $1,000 for in-town travel and per diem expenses even though he was out-of-town on lobbyist-funded trips.

Balfour was also admonished for failing to create a subcommittee to audit senators’ reimbursement claims, as required by law.

Balfour did not respond to WABE’s request for comment. In previous reports, he has acknowledged mistakes, but said they were inadvertent.

After the fine was announced, ethics advocates complained the punishment should have been tougher.

“These are serious offenses. They are offenses committed against the taxpayers of the state and they require a serious penalty,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, a vocal supporter of a $100 spending cap on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. “It’s certainly my opinion that the sanction was not appropriate.”

McKoon says it’s more evidence comprehensive ethics reform is needed.  

“Frankly this does damage further the, I would say, the strained relationship between elected officials and the people we are supposed to be representing,” said McKoon. “The fact that someone can essentially write a check and walk away from this situation without any further sanction sends the wrong message.”

The Senate Ethics Committee determined the fine amount in a meeting with Balfour and his attorney. The public was denied access to the room, and pages of newspaper taped on the door’s windows blocked any view inside. 

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