Your morning jolt: A 30-year history of corruption at Hartsfield-Jackson airport

Members of Common Cause Georgia this morning will gather at City Hall in Atlanta to pitch an ordinance that would ban “pay-to-play” campaign contributions to municipal candidates – from vendors who make bundles off the city.

What makes this gathering different is the presence of Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political scientist and member of the Common Cause board.

He has composed a 30-year history of contracting at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Click here to read it. You can check out Common Cause’s proposed ordinance here.

Below is last night’s video summary from Richard Belcher and Channel 2 Action News:

The opening paragraphs of Swint’s history:

The city of Atlanta has for decades battled a governance problem. While striving to be recognized as an international city, a Mecca for business, and a destination for conventioneers and tourists, it has at times struggled to overcome its association with provincialism, institutionalized corruption and cronyism.

This struggle has been nowhere more apparent than with city contracts given to close associates, family members, and political contributors of Atlanta municipal government officials.

Exhibit A: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The history of ethical lapses and breaches of public faith with regard to Atlanta Airport contracting is unfortunately quite long, and puts Atlanta in the same league as other large cities with similar patterns of corruption, i.e. Chicago, Newark, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles,
and Miami.

A March 3, 2002, investigation by The Atlanta Journal Constitution found that friends of former mayors Bill Campbell and Maynard Jackson had received “the vast majority” of contracts awarded by the Atlanta Airport. In at least 80 of the 100 contracts reviewed during the investigation, one or more partners had a relationship with one or both former mayors. Most were campaign contributors.

Atlanta can take some solace in the fact that it is participating in a long tradition:

The problems of pay-to-play are at least as old as 1299, when a Florentine company prevailed on the British Crown to partner a silver mine. America has a rich heritage of pay for play, cronyism, insider dealings and out-and-out corruption. There appears to be momentum by state and local officials to address the problems head-on.

As more and more money pours into the political process, the integrity of government contracting has become particularly suspect. Well-targeted pay-to-play restrictions can be very useful in fostering fair and open competition in the contracting process and in eliminating the appearance of buying government contracts through campaign contributions. Approximately 20 states have such laws in place, along with numerous local jurisdictions.

Just in time for Georgia’s charter school crisis, former President Bill Clinton will be in Atlanta later this month to speak at a national conference on the topic, according to the Associated Press.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools will hold its annual meeting June 20-23. Clinton will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington, D.C.-based organization.

Other speakers at the conference include Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker.

The meeting is the largest gathering of charter school advocates in the country. At least 4,000 people are expected to attend.

The Augusta Chronicle reports that city officials have approved placing the matter of a new minor league baseball stadium on the 2012 general election ballot.

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver and other community leaders have been studying the idea of building a stadium complex which would be home to the city’s minor league baseball team, the Augusta GreenJackets.

AJC’s Politifact Georgia has awarded GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain a “pants on fire” for denying that he ever said he wouldn’t name a Muslim to his candidate.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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16 comments Add your comment


June 8th, 2011
9:45 am

Corruption in the awarding of contracts by the City of Atlanta government?? Oh, the shock! I’m getting dizzy, and I’d better sit down before I fall down!! I’m sure there were valid reasons for the actions of Atlanta’s officials. Maybe it was because of the Equal Entitlement Opportunity laws, or even a provision of the No Fools Left Behind program. I just can’t read your blogs anymore, Jim. Next you’ll be trying to tell us that some/most politicians cheat on their spouses – even Presidents! Just how gullible do you think we are??


June 8th, 2011
9:47 am

The WSBTV heading and Monica’s teleprompter text at 2:57m are wrong. It’s not Comcast – it’s CLEAR CHANNEL OUTDOOR. FYI..


June 8th, 2011
9:57 am

A client of mine tried once to get a contract at the airport…his contact said just to be “considered” he would have to deliver a briefcase containing $10k. The contact took the cash, delivered it to his airport executive and my client never even got a meeting with the airport executive board…the black hole of Atlanta.

Doug Alexander

June 8th, 2011
10:02 am

Back when I was a newbie on the Atlanta City Council in 1994, I was struck by the inefficiency of the requirement that the Council had to approve all airport expenditures over $10K. I started talking around with my colleagues about the possibility of the City establishing a “Ports Authority” that would have direct day-to-day responsibility for the operation of the airport (and the proposed MMPT). The Council, in my scenario, would approve the overall airport budget. It would also get the lion’s share of appointments to the Authority, with the Mayor of course having some and, I thought, one or two for the Governor to give the State some buy-in.

A very senior person at City Hall told me this idea would go nowhere because, and I quote, “You white people ain’t gonna get our airport.” I was also told by more than one person that if I pursued this idea I would be called out as a racist. The people involved deny ever saying any of this this to me — but it is seared into my memory (also I don’t go ‘round making up stuff like that). Knowing now what I know about how things really work at the airport, these objections had less to do with social justice than they did in certain people taking care of “just us.”

I wish Common Cause luck with its proposal. Perhaps the newer people on the Council, who have yet to be initiated to the airport trough, will push this through. It is a shame that the greed of a few taints the actions of all. And that this is not just Atlanta’s problem and that it is not new does nothing to relieve the stigma attached to the City. It would signal a new day in local politics for this reform to pass, but in the real world it’s hard to imagine it getting signature of any mayor without its being so watered down that it isn’t worth the trouble.

Most people run for office to make a positive difference in their community. A few run for the perceived “goodies” or to use their office as a lever for additional success in the business world. Even fewer run for all of that. And it has been my experience that no amount of ethics legislation is going to change that.

Of course, I could be wrong.


June 8th, 2011
10:15 am

Bill Hartsfield was a visionary leader who saw the value of having the regional airport located in Atlanta. He seized the opportunity when politicians in Alabama didn’t follow the federal government’s lead. They didn’t want the smoke and noise of a busy airport. Hartsfield wanted the commerce and exposure it would give to Atlanta. The airport was rightfully named in his honor. The Jackson name would have been more appropriate for the new Atlanta jail, which wound up housing so many his supporters, rather than sully Hartsfield’s name.

Raquel Morris

June 8th, 2011
10:19 am

Well duh, Jim. Tell us something we don’t know.

Just to make it crystal clear, the last Mayor’s race was not about race and was not about whether Mary Norwood was a Republican. Between Deal, Ralston and his buddies in the Republican Legislature, Mayor Reed has more Republican friends than Mary ever would. The Mayor’s race was about controlling the dollars. With his recent bid to take over APS, Reed is making it clear that he wants another big pie that he can slice up for his friends and campaign contributors.

What are you smoking

June 8th, 2011
10:22 am

Funny, when comparing the obvious corruption in Atlanta with those other cities; Chicago, Newark, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles,and Miami, what do they all have in common? They are all governed by a particular political party that cares more about themsevles and what they can get out of the deal than actually doing for what they were elected.


June 8th, 2011
10:24 am

Let’s not forget about former Mayor Franklin’s ex having plum retail outlets at the airport and let’s not forget that he died owing thousands of dollars to the city, state & the feds.


June 8th, 2011
10:29 am

Jack, in Shirley’s defense, when asked about her ex and the problems his business dealings at the airport were give giving her, she said “I shouldn’t have divorced him; I should have killed him!”

Frankness like that is hard to come by in politics.

Hillbilly D

June 8th, 2011
10:41 am

Corruption at the airport goes back farther than 30 years.


June 8th, 2011
10:50 am

I have to agree with a poster above…what exactly did Maynard Jackson do for this city other than
1. kick the can on sewar problem down the road
2. Enrich himself and his family like an Arab dictator
3. Enrich his friends and business cronies at the expense of the taxpayer by using his inside influence to get the bond deals the city needed to do whatever they have done with the money for the past 25 years.
Maynard Jackson never did anything for this was all for him. Somebody name one thing this guy did?
Im a white guy and while I have ranted abut our mayors in the past that evceryone said is just racist……well guess what I have high hopes for our current mayor. He appears to be cut from a different bolt of cloth. Of course he’s ambitious and he is also well educated with Gov. experience. He has a real chance to become a national leader if he can implement some real changes and we all know that our city needs reform more than any other city in America. Heres to Mayor…..please do whats right for the people……your riches will come later when your successful can write a book about how you did it……. and if your real successful you can run for Gov. I’d vote for you.

Last Man Standing

June 8th, 2011
10:58 am

. . . and this is news to anyone except the most naive?

Ga Values

June 8th, 2011
11:02 am

Reed is owned by the Jackson Political Gang, they will get all their airport contracts renewed. The reason Reed is interested in the APS is that the Jackson family skims about $1,000,000.00 from school food services. Yes Maynard left Atlanta with a legacy, CORRUPTION.


June 9th, 2011
9:52 am

Here we go again. Folks try to win a policy agrument by attacking the success of Atlanta. Had Mayor Sims, Councilmember Hartsfield and the Council, then subsequent mayors and Councils supported the economic growth of the region by investing in the airport Georgia wouldn’t be the fast growing state and economic powerhouse it is. There are many- US Attorney, DA and and host of law enforcement officials- who have the power and responsibility to investigate corruption and crime and the state and federal courts serve as a powerful check on power and corruption. If Common Cause or anyone has a legitimate case, they should take it to the US Attorney.


June 10th, 2011
9:55 am

Another big surprise, Swint doesn’t mention the many businesses that dominated Atlanta contractors for years, some say decades. They include King and Spaulding, Elson and Abrams, Robinson Humphrey, Stevens and Wilkinson, Ivan Allen Company (even when Mayor Allen served as Mayor). Amazing how the issues of contracting are traced from begiining of the Jackson years and the preceding decades are never mentioned. Even Swint’s study is silent. Is there motive here? Or is this coincidence? Common Cause by it’s name does include EVERYONE in the common cause?