ATLANTA - A FOX 5 I-Team investigation found Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan took numerous beach trips lst summer in which part or all of his lodging was free.
The Lt. Governor says speaking at trade events allows Georgians to hear directly from their elected officials. But, some of the hotel payments were only made months later after our I-Team started asking questions.
June 2019, summertime on St. Simons; the Georgia Chamber of Commerce was holding its annual Government Affairs Council meeting at the King & Prince Hotel.
According to his calendar, Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan was invited to make one speech on June 5th. But, he stayed two nights with his wife and three children. A hotel invoice, obtained by the I-Team, shows the Duncans stayed in a two-bedroom villa, that cost more than $600 a night. Duncan’s spokesperson says Duncan is a family man and he likes to take his wife and children whenever he can.
Who paid for the trip? The Lt. Governor didn't. And we found no initial record of payment on the Georgia Chamber's summer lobbyist report. Then, eight months later we tried to talk to Lt. Governor Duncan about a number of issues including his travel. Soon after we talked with Duncan, the Georgia Chamber amended its report disclosing a $1228 payment for both nights.
"It says something about a level of entitlement. It says something about a level of narcissism," said Emory University Ethics professor, Edward Queen
"When you do it in a way that basically leaves you skipping town and not paying the bill and somebody else has to come back later and pick up after you, that says something very, very substantial about an individual's character," said Queen.
The next stop Amelia Island. Lt. Governor Duncan gave a speech to the Georgia Oilman's Association at the Omni Resort. He stayed for two nights. Lobbyist reports filed last summer showed the association paid for meals and $475 for one-night lodging. That's the luxury suite rate.
Who paid for that second night? Duncan's office received an invoice, but never paid it. His spokesperson said Duncan's lawyer has now asked the Oilman's Association to "report" or pay for the extra night as well.
"When you start using your public office as an opportunity for benefits for yourself. That is particularly disturbing," said Queen.
In mid-June according to state travel records, Duncan returned to the beach. He spoke at three different conventions. He stayed five nights and six days including here at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island.
Who paid? No payments were disclosed by any of the organizations he spoke to until eight months later.
One of those groups, the Georgia Auto Dealers, sent the Lt. Governor an invoice for $1190. Duncan's spokesperson says Duncan's campaign paid half and they expect the "GADA will disclose (pay) the other half."
"It says something about how this person understands what the role of a public official is and it’s not one of doing the public's business," said ethics professor Queen.
Then the week of the 4th of July the Lt. Governor and his family returned to St. Simons. This time he stayed all week for free, in a home belonging to a top lawyer from Macon.
According to a source familiar with the trip, Duncan asked a friend to help him find a free house at the beach for a week. Duncan ended up in the home of a friend of his friend, a lawyer whom he had never met. Duncan's spokesperson said the Duncan's stayed in a refurbished, guesthouse.
The guesthouse is listed as a 10 room, 4 bedrooms, home with a pool - according to county property records.
The Lt. Governor had his dignitary protection with him, but they were not on St. Simons. They were across the marsh on Sea Island. A private gated island.
A source familiar with the trip says Duncan received discounted passes from the Sea Island Company to enter the private island for the week. We could find no lobbyist report on the cost of those passes.
But the trooper's hotel and meals bill for the week cost taxpayers $3639, which included two nights at the Cloister at $942 a night.
"It's an abuse of power. Public officials should not be asking private individuals for favors," said Queen.
The Department of Public Safety told us executive protection of top government officials is mandated by law and they provide security for the Lt. Governor year-round. They would not discuss any specifics.
Lt. Governor Duncan gave us his response to his summer travels:
“Speaking at events for industry groups allows Georgians to hear directly for their elected officials – and lets me hear directly from them, as I work on policies that will create good jobs. When traveling to take part in events, I – like all other Georgia elected officials – follow the laws and regulations that are in place.”
His spokesperson provided this response as well:
- When Geoff attends events in an official capacity, Georgia law allows for the host group to cover his hotel expenses. They must disclose that, and it’s on them to do so.
- Geoff is a husband and father of three and he makes every effort to take them with him when he can. There was an example last summer where he had two conventions in one week on the coast that allowed for quality time with family while also performing work duties. When there were gaps in days, he scheduled campaign events/fundraisers under his political hat.
- The stay on St. Simons with another family has nothing to do with anything. The hosts aren’t lobbyists or seeking anything from the state government. The Duncans were invited to stay on the property with the owners.