Posted: 9:00 am Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Ethics verdict poses a threat to GOP grip on Georgia 

By Jim Galloway

In the 11 days after the adjournment of the Legislature on March 20, Democrat Jason Carter out-raised Gov. Nathan Deal by a ratio of five to one.

The Republican incumbent pulled in $84,000 before the deadline for the latest contribution reporting period. His upstart challenger, a sitting state senator, raised $416,000.

The Deal campaign accused Carter of cheating – by advertising a March 23 fundraiser in New York, which featured his famous grandfather, before lawmakers abandoned Atlanta. State law forbids legislators and all other elected state officials from soliciting campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session.

Plaintiff attorney Kimberly Worth uses a chart to help deliver closing arguments in the whistle blower lawsuit brought by former state ethics commission executive secretary Stacey Kalberman. A Fulton County jury awarded her $700,000. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

Plaintiff attorney Kimberly Worth uses a chart to help deliver closing arguments in the whistle blower lawsuit brought by former state ethics commission executive secretary Stacey Kalberman. A Fulton County jury awarded her $700,000. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

But here’s the unfortunate reality of the situation: Whether or not the Democratic candidate for governor adhered to the letter of the law doesn’t matter a whit as a practical matter. Not right now, and not in the near future.

The state agency in charge of refereeing these fundraising restrictions – the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission – has melted into a puddle of cash-starved, lawsuit-induced paralysis. Its only lawyer has been sacked, allegedly for drinking on the job. It has no investigators.

The commission, which costs you $1.3 million per annum, hasn’t done any work on 169 open cases in more than a year.

Even if it could overcome these obstacles, the agency – which can still be found on the Internet under its discarded identity, the “State Ethics Commission” — may now lack the moral wherewithal to pass judgment on the activities of Carter, Deal’s two primary opponents, or anyone else.

It has only been nine days since a Fulton County jury endorsed the story told by Stacey Kalberman, the ethics commission’s former executive secretary, who said she had been sacked three years ago for pursuing an investigation into Deal’s 2010 election campaign.

Jurors were assisted in their decision-making by Patrick Millsaps, the commission chairman who helped force Kalberman out. He admitted that that the recruitment of her replacement by Deal’s office – before Kalberman knew she was leaving — “doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Then there was the testimony of Kalberman’s replacement, Holly LaBerge, who couldn’t remember who in the governor’s office offered her an $85,000-a-year job. In 1971, I landed a $1.67-an-hour job as a Richway buggy boy in south Fulton County. I can still name the woman who hired me.

Skeptical jurors awarded Kalberman $700,000. Court costs and attorney fees are likely to push the number toward $1 million.

After years of false starts, we now know what’s required to push through serious ethics reform in Georgia. There must be a bona fide threat to a ruling party’s grasp on the state Capitol. That’s what we have now.

Political veterans, myself included, are often jaded when it comes to the impact of scandal on the voting public. But complicated and esoteric issues are just that – until they are not. “The fix was in” is a remarkably short and easily understood bumper sticker.

Deal, who insists he has no connection to the Kalberman case, must still be viewed as a favorite to win re-election, in both his primary and the general election. But given the stakes, Republicans can take no chances.

It’s not just control of the state bureaucracy that’s at risk. Over the last year, certain GOP strategists have worried that the wrong nominee – a Paul Broun, perhaps – could boost Democrat Michelle Nunn’s chances of winning the U.S. Senate. Those same Republicans must now worry whether a wounded Deal – and a strengthened Carter – could have the same effect.

Like many others in the Capitol, both Democrat and Republican, Deal has suspected the ethics commission of being a factory for frivolous complaints filed by campaign operatives during election season. Which it surely can be. (It has also been criticized as a toothless and near useless watchdog.)

But three days after the Fulton County jury’s verdict, the governor announced his first stab at remaking the state ethics commission, by expanding the commission from five to 13 members representing the legislative, executive and judicial arms of government.

The commission is currently controlled by the Capitol’s three power centers. Three appointees belong to the governor, one to the House speaker, and one to Senate leadership.

The governor did not recommend an independent and larger funding source for the commission, but has left that door open. Any new legislation will have to wait until January – after the election. In the meantime, Deal has even more hurdles.

Two more lawsuits are pending. One is from Kalberman’s No. 2, who was also forced out in 2011. Another is from an agency technician, who claims he was asked to delete documents related to the Deal investigation.

The question is whether to bring those cases to trial for a second and third round of unpleasant publicity. A fourth lawsuit, from the aforementioned sacked attorney, is possible.

The state ethics commission will hold a closed-door meeting this week – its first since the verdict — to discuss its messy legal situation. But it won’t be the only party to a decision on how to cut through this Gordian knot.

The state Department of Administrative Services, which answers to the governor and issues all checks, would have to sign off on any out-of-court settlements. Attorney General Sam Olens would have to put his stamp of approval on any deals as well.

Given that Olens is often mentioned as a 2018 candidate for governor, we’re looking at a mess that could have an impact far beyond November.

195 comments
Colinrichards
Colinrichards

The ACA is a huge blessing in my family and I thank God for it every day. Deal will lose to Carter because Georgia needs Medicaid expansion. I have excellent employer insurance but a child with a pre-existing condition and another self employed adult child who is now insured through the exchanges. She has affordable Humana coverage. This is a big f-ing deal.

BuzzG
BuzzG

Jim Galloway is having a wet dream.  In the morning he will wake up and his sheets will be sticky, but Georgia will still be conservative.

NWGAL
NWGAL

I've come to think that Republicans want the government to fail on all levels so that their guns will ensure them the power and self respect that they don't have now. Steal, lie, support unlimited guns. They want Armageddon.

Frank Furter
Frank Furter

Why has Shady Deal and the Ethics Board not fired Holly Laberg a complete screw up? She did Shady a favor and can now bring him down. He owes her a nice new well paying job. If this was not true she would already be gone. Just look at thefine mess she has made at the commission.

Bernie31
Bernie31

Talk About Connecting The Dots....Seems everyone at The Gold Dome is either a Crook or Liar or BOTH.

PappyODeal
PappyODeal

Yanno ah can smooth ovah this outta' coahrt with thuh othuh three an' git it quiet downed ah bit. Mah problum now is Chip jus' called an' wants me to fiah him too now. Thas' jus' gonna' open thuh floodgates if ah do that foah my lil' buddy. Purty soon ever' state employee will want me to fiah them too.

lvg
lvg

What's wrong with having a governor who is ethically challenged? Georgians love it or they would not vote for these bozos.Gotta take of personal bizness first before state bizness.

zekeI
zekeI

Anyone stupid enough to vtote for a democrat is a full fledged idiot!!

BigHat
BigHat

Secret government is the 2nd best government; NO government is the best government.  

SouthGeorgiareader
SouthGeorgiareader

Leave it to the GOP  to kill the ethics commission, and in so doing leave taxpayers liable to pay huge wrongful treatment settlements to those who staffed the commission.  What a morally bankrupt bunch of politicians!  It's a sad tale about how state government really works in Georgia.

atlfalconno1fan
atlfalconno1fan

these georgia rednecks will vote for anything Republican even if they are poor and struggling which many are...they are not the most educated bunch

td1234
td1234

All these progressives on this page are going to bed tonight with the delusion that they may actually have a chance to beat Deal in the general election. 

tomkat1111
tomkat1111

Deal himself, doesn't pass the smell test. We need the feds to appoint a special investigator to clean up this mess.

MoFaux
MoFaux

@BuzzG  Well, since this here's a red state, how are your sheets today?

CherokeeCounty
CherokeeCounty

I agree.  Elect people who don't believe in government, then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy when it doesn't work....

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

@NWGAL - Why not continue posting under your sockpuppet screen name similar to mine?

td1234
td1234

@Bernie31  If you mean in both parties then we may actually agree on something. 

Bernie31
Bernie31

@PappyODeal-  Jamican Proverb

Alligator lay egg, but him now fowl 

Explanation - Things are not always as they seem.

honested
honested

@PappyODeal  

republican whack-a-mole.

Wouldn't it have been easier to just run a fair and honest government and follow the rules?

PappyODeal
PappyODeal

@lvg

Why it ain't no challenge at t'all.  Ah could gettem' if I wanted some, jus' never saw any use in thuh stinkin' thangs. Ethical politishuns are whut they call thuh guys that lost an' wint back to helpin' their daddy wid thuh fahrm.  

honested
honested

@zekeI  

I believe you better describe those who have elected the current and most recent Governors.

PappyODeal
PappyODeal

@zekeI

Yur darn tootin' son. If'n you vote in a young Democrat now he'll hafto steal 10 times as much to git up to whar ah am now. Ah jus' need foah moah years an' ah'll be sittin' purty for the res' o' mah days.   

td1234
td1234

@atlfalconno1fan  Except for the little fact that the children in Republican house districts have higher SAT scores than children in Democratic house districts. Otherwise you may have a point. 

DunwoodyGranny
DunwoodyGranny

No, I think most of us realize that Georgia voters are different now than they were decades ago when Democrats (which an overwhelming number of Georgians were in those days) decided it was time for Herman Talmadge and his magic raincoat to retire from the US Senate. Mack Mattingly became the first Republican to win a statewide election in Georgia since Reconstruction. He served one term, and then the voters decided it was time for him to retire in favor of a Democrat. That would never happen today, when the party is so much more important than the candidate.

PappyODeal
PappyODeal

@td1234

You tell 'em td. I am DA MAN! I ain't no moah crooked than thuh ressovum. They cain't touch this!

Disgusted Voter
Disgusted Voter

@tomkat1111 That would be like choosing a fox to guard a gaggle of geese. My prediction of Deal' epitaph after the General Election;


Here lies the political carcass of Nathan Deal.

A skunk who though he was a really big wheel.

Lost to a Democrat and left to rot, 

Unsung, unwept, and soon forgot! 

Too bad it had to be by another Carter!

DewieCheatem_n_Howe
DewieCheatem_n_Howe

@tomkat1111

All of the parties forced out of the Georgia Lack of Ethics Commission received subpoenas from a federal grand jury some months back. Everything those guys do is supposed to stay secret so we have the possibility of that shoe dropping in the future as well. Given all the smoke I would be surprised if they don't find enough fire to bring indictments.

td1234
td1234

@CherokeeCounty  Please name some Republicans that do not believe in Government or believe in anarchy Georgette? 


Just because Republicans do not believe it is governments responsibility to care for the day to day needs and wants of the citizens does not believe there is not a role for government. It just means Conservatives and progressives believe differently in what the size and scope to the government should be. 

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

This is a screen name thief/ poser.  Total lack of ethics and a leftist.

Derwin0
Derwin0

@DunwoodyGranny  Mattingly lost because Wyche Fowler ran saying he was a conservative.  He got to Washington and voted Liberal.  Voters kicked him out after a single term.  Max Cleland did the same thing, ran as a Conservative and voted as a Liberals, same result.


Voters have gotten wise to that trick, and contributed to the big losses in more recent statewide elections.

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

Those subpoenas (and FBI involvement) were from last December.  It would appear that 4 months later nothing came of it.  And it was not targeted at Deal, but the ethics committee.

BuckheadBoy
BuckheadBoy

@td1234 @CherokeeCounty"Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub." And, that is from a shaman of the Republican cult, no less. 

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

Yes - posers and sock puppets are scum.  You fit the bill.

The-Centrist
The-Centrist

Oh, and scum.  Meant to say scum.  I like tossing around insults then refusing to engage in a discussion.  Makes me feel all manly and tingly.

td1234
td1234

@honested @td1234  Prove I am wrong instead of running your mouth. You can start at either the archives of this paper or the state DOE site to find either SAT, ACT, CRCT or state graduation test data. Compare city of Atlanta, Dekalb or Clayton county against the scores in Cobb, Gwinn, Forsyth or Fannin, Gilmer, or any county you wish in south Georgia (besides Samford Bishop's counties. 

honested
honested

@td1234  

You may be entitled to you own warped opinion, but you are not entitled to your own FACTS.

Your fixation on outdated test score data certainly suggests a longing for a dead past.

DixiesDew
DixiesDew

@td1234

You hush now you hear. Pretty soon all them uppity types will want equal schools and the like.   

td1234
td1234

@Charles50 @td1234 @atlfalconno1fan  Nope the kids is Kingston's district and Austin's district still outscore the kids in Lewis or Johnson's district. 


The poorest and most uneducated in this state vote Democrat. 

The_Centrist
The_Centrist


Liberal sock puppets who steal screen names do a lot for their side of the debate.

Scum.

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

@DewieCheatem_n_Howe - Agree only partisans care about the minor infractions 4 years ago.  I'd also be skeptical of the committee members scuttling an investigation if it were not the fact that it was already closed with a small fine.  But some staff wanted a bigger fine/investigation to continue.  A very Democratic party affiliated Fulton County jury found for the plaintiffs in a civil action (very different level of of finding versus a criminal trial) against the committee.  There has been absolutely no evidence that Deal had anything to do with it.  Partisan speculation is not admissible.  Four years after the initial minor infraction and four months since the feds and a grand jury looking into the same things the civil trial covered has not resulted in any further action.  This is going nowhere other than remotely possible criminal charges against the committee.

Replying to your insult about my being a centrist - Deal is no hero to me - adequate Governor.  I'll look at Michelle Nunn and compare her to the GOP nominee.  I voted against the GOP Attorney General and he has since proved to have been a buffoon to take Balfour to trial with such a lack of evidence.  I am pro-choice, pro Buffet rule tax, pro Common Core, and fear the GOP right wingers like Broun and Handel.

DewieCheatem_n_Howe
DewieCheatem_n_Howe

@The_Centrist  

I just had my reply hit the bit bucket for some reason and don't feel like rolling the in mud with you anymore. Suffice it to say the feds don't care about what a neutered committee found to be minor infractions 4 years ago. They would be concerned on how that committee got neutered. It would be quite sometime before any statute of limitations come into play. You have yourself a blissful day.

Signed,

An actual centrist. 

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

@DewieCheatem_n_Howe- Sorry, but it is your ignorance in this case - driven by your blind partisanship.  Deal is no more a target than you are.  It is partisans making accusations that Deal somehow directed the ethics board to scuttle the add on investigation of minor campaign rule infractions after it was settled with a small fine.  Such a thing would be a Nixonian colossal blunder, and total political hyperbole to stretch this to a real problem for Deal.  Even if there are indictments, they would only be for the committee members.  Statute of Limitations may even be in play at this late date.  Furthermore, indictments can be negated by a judge if he finds the evidence doesn't fit - and then a trial like the one Balfour stood could sweep them away.

At least I got your answer about the time frame - "probably won't see any action until after the election" which would be almost a year after a grand jury and 4 years after the fact - even more of a moot point for Deal.  

ANY indictments are unlikely - just partisan wishful thinking.

DewieCheatem_n_Howe
DewieCheatem_n_Howe

@The_Centrist

First off, quote me right if you're going to quote me. I said I would be surprised if they don't hand down some indictments, I said nothing about when. You see I've actually sat on a federal grand jury and it is not fun. One year of traveling to the Russell building once a week. Some of the indictments were sealed and not released for many months after we were released. Some left out with Marshals to serve them that very evening. It is all up to the prosecutor, his minions and his supervisors in Justice.  Given the fact it is an election year and there could be criticism of a Democratic AG interfering with a sitting Republican state administration, politics of course are in play. We probably won't see any action until after the election. But then again we could. I doubt we see any action on Deal himself, he knows the Godfather keeps his distance. But then again we could. Rarely do the targets themselves get subpenaed, mostly the witnesses. But that isn't a hard and fast rule either.

You displayed your ignorance in saying that nothing will come of it since it hasn't happened yet but mostly with your hands down assertion that Deal is not the target.  Unless someone has committed a criminal offense and told you the target(s) or unless you are currently serving on said jury and are committing that offense yourself you have no knowledge if Deal was the target or not and therefore have beyond a doubt proven your ignorance. 

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

@DewieCheatem_n_Howe - Good quote.  And you are proving it true today.  You are being surprised every day that indictments have not been handed down.  At what point do you concede there will be none?  Another month, year?

DewieCheatem_n_Howe
DewieCheatem_n_Howe

@The_Centrist  

To paraphrase Twain, your many opinions offered here would be better served if we just think you are ignorant rather than you posting statements like this and proving it beyond a doubt.