Wednesday, May 26, 2010

26 MAY 10: Two Smiths, Two Accounts

There's Richard E. Smith, who lives on Seaton Drive in Columbus. Then there's Richard H. Smith, who lives next door. Only one of them is the state representative -- and after calling the wrong one by mistake Tuesday night, we're comforted to report one is NOT ready to challenge the other for re-election.

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: State Rep. Richard Smith (the one with the H) made his first public comment Tuesday night on having what a political blog called one of the "phattest cribs" in Atlanta during this year's Georgia legislative session. Smith admitted to me he's retired - so I respected that, and chose to call his residence an apartment instead.

We noted here last month that Rep. Richard Smith paid $2,373 per month for an Atlanta-area apartment during the legislative session [14 Apr]. A blog reader dug into that and more, in a series of e-mails to us over recent days....

Is GA Rep. Richard Smith pocketing his state paid per diem of about $6700 while actually paying for his $2400 per mo. apt. with special interest contributions?

Seems rather odd to collect the per diem for something his special interest groups have already paid for.

I guess that is sort of collecting from the state unnecessarily....

My, My what campaign funds will buy! And this man wants to double charge per diem = his campaign pays the apt. rent and the state pays him and he gets off making money on the deal! So, he gets a free apt and he gets to pocket the cash!

Special Interests pay for his life of luxury! He has been doing this for years so he has a war chest of about $119K .

This man created a lot of new taxes, in HB 1055, the fee bill, to fix the budget rather than cut back government. He calls himself a Republican!


He lives very well and all on the dollar of the special interests.

Did you notice that the Commerce Club has special affiliations with other private clubs worldwide.

Disclosure reports filed by Smith indeed show he paid for apartment rent with campaign donations. But $2,400?! When I left metro Atlanta, my rent was less than $400 - although unlike Columbus, I could fill the waterbed for free.

Rep. Richard Smith corrected one presumption from the April reports. While he wrote monthly rent checks to Post Properties in Marietta, he actually lived in an apartment near the Atlanta Civic Center -- only ten blocks from the state Capitol. Smith apparently took a cab for those blocks, because he had no idea MARTA rail service was nearby.

Rep. Richard Smith explained more than a dozen state lawmakers stayed at the Post apartments near Midtown Atlanta. "It's a gated community," he told me. There, you see - that's more like a Republican.

The apartment rent computes to 80 dollars a day, which Richard Smith says compares well with Atlanta hotel charges. And on top of that, Smith doesn't have to worry about buying overpriced cans of soda in his room.

Rep. Richard Smith told your blog he's within Georgia ethics rules to pay for legislative living quarters with campaign donations. Smith added he abides by the same per diem rules of Atlanta lawmakers, who simply drive to the Capitol from homes. Those are the homes which may have the nicer lawns and gardens.

"I don't know how the younger folks do it," Rep. Richard Smith said concerning the costs of commuting and living in Atlanta during the legislative session. While Smith's wife is working, "I'm retired.... basically on a fixed income." Given the recession, the only people NOT on fixed incomes seem to be investment bankers and football players.

Rep. Richard Smith took issue with the e-mail claim that "special interest contributions" pay for his apartment rent in Atlanta. He considers that a misleading label for the people and businesses who donate to his campaign fund. That list for 2009 was e-mailed to us, too - and 24 of them have "PAC" in their names. I can't believe they all lobbied for Google to put a Pac-Man game on its home page.

I asked Rep. Richard Smith about House Bill 1055, which the Georgia governor signed into law. He said fees need to go up for a wide range of state services to cover their costs. For instance, convicted drunk drivers who appeal to reclaim their driver's licenses must pay a $150 filing fee. That doesn't seem like a "tax" to me - but it's "fine" by me.

State records confirm Rep. Richard Smith spent about $600 in dues over the last year to the Commerce Club of Atlanta. He also spent $831 there last October for a fundraiser -- which hopefully covered the dues, along with his downright modest $500 to be part of the Columbus Rotary Club.

One of the e-mails we received about Richard Smith's finances included the Commerce Club's complete dinner menu and wine list. It surprisingly did NOT include a notice about today's main event at the club - a "leadership luncheon" about how reductions to Georgia's budget deficit will affect you. [True!]

"When we're not in session, I don't even go close to that thing," Rep. Richard Smith told me about the Commerce Club. He explains he only goes there a couple of times each year, taking officials from Columbus to dinner as they visit the state legislature. You'd think they'd be satisfied with a hot dog and souvenirs from The Varsity....

Rep. Richard Smith pointed out his campaign account was audited by the Georgia Ethics Commission a couple of years ago. The only problem auditors found was that the account needed to be reset to zero every couple of election cycles. That may be when he orders dessert with his entree at The Commerce Club.

We should note none of what we brought up to Rep. Richard Smith Tuesday night surprised him at all. "I've read the same e-mails," he told me" -- as local activist Deborah Owens apparently sent them to him as well as me. So this wasn't a BCC-handed ambush interview at all....

Rep. Richard Smith believes Deborah Owens went digging through his campaign records because she disagreed with him on a piece of legislation. Smith didn't say what that legislation was. That's OK - I know Owens well enough to predict she'll e-mail me the entire bill by the end of the week.

Since Richard Smith named her name, I should invoke full disclosure here - and note Deborah Owens is the author of several e-mails this month (but not all) complaining about Columbus city and school budgeting. If she's doing all this to prepare an election-year campaign of her own, she hasn't said so to me. Perhaps April paper showers simply bring May growlers.

Back on Seaton Drive, that other Richard Smith has no complaints with his lawmaker neighbor. "I like the man," Richard E. told me Tuesday night. In fact, they get together at least once a week -- to exchange mail sent to the wrong location, and even wrong prescription drugs.

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Check what's happening at "On the Flop!" <-

BLOG UPDATE: Speaking of money, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries Director Claudya Muller called us back Tuesday. Her staff did some math, and computed spending for branches outside Columbus last fiscal year came to $239,658.96. Yes, she was specific to the penny. We're not talking 1.44 mills here, after all -- it's 1.5.

Claudya Muller also promised an updated Library Board budget will be posted on the library website as soon as possible. We noted Tuesday the most recent one we found online was five years old -- way back when the central library was newly-opened, and IT was labeled by scoffers as the "Taj Mahal."

We continue to encourage the development of summer math skills, as we check the Tuesday news headlines....

+ Columbus Council discussed possibly increasing PAWS Humane animal adoption fees by 25 dollars. This is one issue where I suspect there will be no neuter ground....

+ Kristy Dugan was named a special Muscogee County Assistant District Attorney over arson cases. District Attorney Julia Slater explained an arson specialist will reduce crime in that area - yet F.B.I. statistics indicate Columbus had 39 percent fewer arson cases last year without her. Did the recession even reduce the sales of cigarette lighters?

+ Russell County Sheriff candidate Jeff Gibson told WTVM he supports "community policing," with residents knowing who the sheriff and deputies are. So a vote for Gibson next week could be a vote against undercover drug stings.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer announced it's joining a "Georgia Newspaper Partnership" with 11 other papers, to provide in-depth state political coverage. If this project works well between now and November, the papers could go ahead and merge.

+ Brookstone School students donated more than 1,000 pairs of collected shoes to orphan children in Iraq. You'd think one retail chain would take the lead in this project - but the name has NOT been changed to iRack Room Shoes.

+ Columbus High School topped Thomson 8-4, to advance to the AAA state baseball finals. Columbus will host the championship series this weekend, but Coach Bobby Howard faces a big decision. If you play Ringgold at Golden Park, will the visitors feel more inspired to win?

+ Instant Message to Shrek: Somebody's got to say it -- you're a profit-hungry sell-out. I mean, why are you endorsing Vidalia onions from southeast Georgia? Instead of, you know.... green onions?

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