May 2, 2012

Did Atlanta’s Mayor Hand Off Airport Space To Big Donors?

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the world’s busiest airport, with more than 78 million people using the facility in 2008 alone.

That’s why as the airport expands, major businesses and vendors are scrambling to grab spaces to open restaurants, shops, and other retail outlets.

The city moved late last year to award contracts to these vendors, which totaled $3 billion over ten years.

But then watchdog group Common Cause urged the city to slow down the contract allocation process so that the public would have more time to scrutinize who won the contracts. The organization noted that the bidding for the airport contracts was “the largest round of contract bidding ever seen in North America.”

One particular reason to slow down the process — it appeared that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed may have been preferentially awarding contracts to businesses who donated to his campaigns. From a Channel 2 investigation:

…a Channel 2 investigation exposed a fundraiser for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, held just four days before the airport bidding started.

Reed brought in nearly $300,000 on March 17, 2011. [Channel 2’s investigative reporter] Fleischer poured through the concessions bids and campaign records and tied at least $57,000 of it to would-be airport vendors.

Reed voluntarily gave back about $25,000 he received during the bidding period. But he refused to give back bidder money received in the days leading up to the bidding. Reed has repeatedly said he had nothing to do with the awarding of the airport contracts.

Yet despite these obvious conflicts of interest, Atlanta’s city council hurriedly approved the contracts. But now the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has gotten involved, and is looking into how various contracts were awarded or refused to a number of vendors.

One vendor who was contacted by the FBI agreed to speak anonymously to Channel 2. “It might take two years. It might take five years, hopefully one day we’ll know the truth,” said the anonymous source. “My hope for the city of Atlanta is that we put a better face on the airport and people around the country just stop expecting that this just always goes on in Atlanta.”

For the sake of uprooting the corrupting influence of money in politics, we agree.

  • Well my hope is that we put a better face on our entire political system. Right now people around the country know that this just always goes on everywhere. Why we weed out candidates who can’t be manipulated by money through the campaign process is beyond me. The article you link to states that “businessman Mack Wilbourn hosted a fundraiser for Mayor Reed. Wilbourn won more than $350 million worth of contracts at the airport.” Wilbourn also sent out two fundraising emails on behalf of two councilmen. There is a lot of mutual back scratching going on here.

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