State To Pay Out $1.9 Million More for Ethics Commission Whistleblower Cases

One of three former state ethics commission staffers Friday reached a big cash settlement with the Attorney General’s office. The other two staffers are reportedly close to their own settlements.

All are connected to a now-closed investigation into Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2010 campaign.

Former ethics staffer John Hair alleged he was fired after refusing to destroy documents related to the Deal investigation.

The state will pay Hair $410,000 to avoid a trial.

Attorney Kim Worth represented Hair, as well as former commission chief Stacey Kalberman, who earlier this year was awarded $1.15 million in a related whistleblower case.

“The response to the initial allegations were to say they were disgruntled or they were making it up or whatever it is. And I think that the focus needs to be on ethics in government and ethics reform as opposed to people losing their jobs for doing their jobs,” said Worth. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports two other staffers have reached settlements of their own, but WABE could not confirm that by airtime. The newspaper reports the state will pay out $1 million to former Kalberman deputy Sherilyn Streicker and another $477,550 to former commission attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein.

“The taxpayers? I’d think they’d be incensed,” said Worth. “It’s truly an unbelievable thing that so much money is being paid out of taxpayer money for things that just didn’t need to be…that didn’t have to go this far.” 

Deal, who is running for re-election this year, has denied any involvement in the case, despite his office interviewing Kalberman’s replacement while Kalberman still ran the commission and was investigating Deal’s campaign. 

Deal was ultimately cleared of any major ethics violation and agreed to pay a $3,350 fine.

In a written statement, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said, “Whatever the merits of the cases, today’s settlement shows once again the utter dysfunction of the campaign finance commission.” He then cited Deal’s recent call for state lawmakers to overhaul the commission next legislative session.

Democrat Jason Carter, who is running against Deal in the governor’s race, said, “As a taxpayer, I’m outraged that we’re now on the hook for three million dollars, and as a citizen, I’m embarrassed that this is happening in our state.”

Carter reiterated prior calls for the commission to re-open the investigation into Deal’s 2010 campaign. 

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