October 14, 2015; Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Investigations”

Politically connected nonprofits are often the beneficiaries of political largesse—politicians often donate excess funds from their campaign accounts to their favorite charities. But the practice of donating public taxpayer funds to those same charities has been ruled illegal in Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on a recently released DeKalb County corruption report that questions commissioners’ donations of county funds to local charities. DeKalb County is adjacent to Atlanta; commissioners are akin to councilors or supervisors.

A former Georgia attorney general, hired by the county to investigate corruption, told the Journal-Constitution that state law prohibits distributing tax money to charities: “You don’t have to be a constitutional law expert to know that you can’t spend government money on your favorite charity, no matter how worthy the cause.”

The paper points out that politicians support nonprofits frequently by using their campaign accounts. It said that over the last decade, Georgia politicians donated about $1.5 million to charities “from the campaign funds of everyone from Gov. Nathan Deal to local school board candidates.”

As in many other jurisdictions, state law says that “excess” political contributions can be given to nonprofits, and it’s a common practice across the country. In Georgia, many of those donations go to local churches and schools, as well as the Boy Scouts. Atlanta’s mayor donated over $100,000 between 2006 and 2013, even in the middle of his 2013 re-election campaign that raised $1.4 million.

In DeKalb County, however, the practice of donating thousands of taxpayer dollars to charities is probably over. The county attorney agreed with the former attorney general, and issued an opinion saying that donations that don’t bring a “substantial benefit” to the county violate the Georgia constitution’s ban on gratuities.—Larry Kaplan