Deal Reconsiders Campaign Pledge To Overhaul Ethics Commission

Gov. Nathan Deal has reconsidered a campaign pledge to overhaul the state ethics commission.
Gov. Nathan Deal has reconsidered a campaign pledge to overhaul the state ethics commission.
Credit Branden Camp / Associated Press
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Gov. Nathan Deal has reconsidered a campaign pledge to overhaul the state ethics commission.

Last summer, Deal said the commission was plagued by “confusion, dysfunction and inefficiency.”

Now, his spokesman says it’s “functioning well.”

Part of Deal’s overhaul plan was to expand the size of the ethics commission board to help prevent conflicts of interest.

“I want to make sure that we have reforms. That’s why I’ve recommended that we make reforms next year,” said Deal at a gubernatorial debate in October. “We will remove any doubt about any conflict of interest.”

Fast forward to Thursday, House Speaker David Ralston said he supported boosting funding for the commission but came out against Deal’s plan to expand the board.

“I don’t think adding members to the commission solves the problem,” said Ralston.”I’m open to giving them more resources, and I would support additional funding so they could add more lawyers and auditors.” 

When asked about Ralston’s comments, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said, “the governor thinks the commission is functioning well now, and in fact many others are saying the same thing.”

He said Deal is willing to give the commission time to prove it doesn’t need to be restructured.

“By all accounts, the commission appears to be functioning again, which was always the governor’s top priority. The commission wants time to prove it has turned the ship around. The governor is willing to do that, and obviously he and the speaker have the same view there,” said Robinson.

He added Deal still supports increasing the commission’s funding. 

The ethics commission, which in 2011 was officially renamed The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, has been embroiled in controversy over the last four years. Former staffers who were investigating Deal’s 2010 campaign claim political pressure cost them their jobs. The state has had to pay out about $3 million related to their whistleblower cases

Deal has strongly denied involvement in those cases. 

The recent comments from Deal’s office has upset some reform advocates. Common Cause Georgia Director William Perry still wants an overhaul and accused Deal of using ethics reform as an election-year ploy. 

“Classic bait and switch tactic. He’s going back on his promise now that he’s been re-elected,” said Perry.

Others are holding out hope that Deal ultimately intends to follow through on his pledge. Atlanta Tea Party co-chair Julianne Thompson, who pushed lawmakers to pass an ethics reform package in 2013, called for patience.

“I believe Gov. Deal plans to follow through with his campaign promises on his own timetable, and at this particular time I don’t know what exactly that is but I believe he’ll follow through.”