Ethics reformers are applauding the indictment of State Senator Don Balfour on allegations he illegally claimed travel expenses. But experts say it won’t be easy proving Balfour knowingly misappropriated state funds.
A grand jury charged Balfour last week with 16 counts of making a false certificate, one count of theft and one count of making a false statement.
The Snellville Republican has said he made mistakes on his expense reports. He paid a $5,000 fine last year following a state Senate ethics committee probe.
William Perry is with the watchdog group Common Cause. He says the charges show the law holds even powerful officials accountable.
“The victory is that the public will finally see a process play out that will either vindicate Don Balfour or prosecute him,” he said in an interview. “It’s pretty serious because you’re essentially talking about stealing taxpayer money.”
Steve Anthony is a political science professor at Georgia State University. He says Balfour’s criminal trial will be anything but a slam dunk.
“It’s a different standard than just coming before the Ethics committee. It’s a much a higher standard. It’s going to be much harder to prove what he’s indicted for.
The charges filed against Balfour Friday marked the third indictment of a Georgia elected official this year. Ethics reformers are saying it shows a sea change in the tolerance for misconduct by elected officials.
But others, like Anthony, say the current focus on making elected officials more accountable is temporary.
“Frankly, my prediction is in a couple of years, the clamor will die down in a while and we’ll be back to where we were a year ago where people are calling for stricter laws,” he said.
He says there’s no connection between the charges against Balfour and an ethics bill passed earlier this year by the state Legislature.
Gov. Nathan Deal will now appoint a three-person panel to determine if Balfour should be suspended from the Senate.
Earlier this year, state Legislator Tyrone Brooks of Atlanta and DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis were also indicted.