Atlanta mayor answers call for campaign finance reform with promise: Airport contracts will be clean, above reproach

By David Pendered

A call for campaign finance reform in Atlanta has resulted in Mayor Kasim Reed saying contracts awarded this autumn for the world’s busiest airport will be clean.

Common Cause of Georgia has issued a report contending that lucrative airport contracts usually go to benefactors of city politicians. The way to stop that, Common Cause says, is to stop airport vendors and their agents from pouring money into campaigns.

About four hours after Common Cause met with reporters on the north steps of City Hall, Reed’s office released a 912-word statement. The headline: “Mayor Kasim Reed Expresses Confidence in Hartsfield-Jackson Airport Management.”

One key paragraph reverses a previous decision by the city’s Procurement Department concerning secret issues.

Now, the members of the team that recommends which vendors should win a contract will be identified before the members do their work. Previously, their names were to have been kept secret until after they selected winning vendors.

To Emmet Bondurant, metro Atlanta’s confirmed good-government attorney, the sparring must seem like a summer dance shared with a nemesis. Since 1962, he’s been trying to reform a governance system that’s been dominated by interests both entrenched and influential.

“No one at Common Cause is questioning Kasim Reed’s integrity,” Bondurant said.

“But having said that, that is not an argument for not adopting an even more effective step to eliminate political influence from people who are self-interested or afraid of retaliation for not making contributions.”

Reed has not embraced a call by Common Cause to limit certain corporate campaign contributions to $250 a candidate, every four years.  Reed says candidates need money.

The Common Cause proposal would affect only companies that have or seek a city contract. Companies that exceed the limit would forfeit any existing contracts, and also the right to compete for city business for a year after the violation.

Bondurant continued:

“The fact that they all say they desperately need contributions from those who do business with the city is a damning statement of the influence these people have over city decision-making.”

On Wednesday, the Reed administration shifted its focus from responding to the call for campaign finance reform to addressing the contents of a white paper issued by Common Cause.

Specifically, the administration addressed the report’s contention that airport contracts have a history of being awarded to campaign contributors.

Reed’s prepared statement outlines the steps Reed has taken since he took office to eliminate any hint of corruption at the airport. Three main points are:

  • Reed’s commitment to a clean process for procuring contracts to provide food and beverage, and some retail shops, for 191,000 square feet at the airport – a space equal to almost two Wal-Mart stores;
  • Reed’s decision in 2010 to start anew the process of selecting underwriters for $1.6 billion in airport bonds;
  • Reed’s creation of a blue ribbon committee to help find candidates to serve as the airport’s general manager.

Common Cause officials think their proposal is appropriate, according to Kerwin Swint, the political scientist at Kennesaw State University and Common Cause board member who wrote the white paper on airport contracts.

Swint spoke at the City Hall event:

“Common Cause wants procurement reform to disallow companies that exceed the $250 limit. It is reasonable and it is enforceable. The defense by Mayor Reed is really why we’re here to day. We think this is something the mayor can do something about.”

Reed was traveling Wednesday, a spokeswoman stated in an email.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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