Posted: 5:47 pm Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Holly LaBerge’s memo and the queasy politics of ethics 

By Jim Galloway

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission is a quasi-judicial agency – with a heavy emphasis on the “quasi,” as this week’s developments have shown.

To the point of queasiness.

Once upon a time, we had a State Ethics Commission to keep track of how money shapes Georgia politics. But four years ago, the word “ethics” was disappeared by an act of the Legislature and the signature of an exiting Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The renaming of the agency wasn’t accidental. It was cultural.

And it lies at the root of the sudden problem for Gov. Nathan Deal, posed by a 2012 memo that until Monday had been conveniently hidden from sight within the “transparency” commission and elsewhere.

To you and me, ethics is a matter of right or wrong, good behavior or misbehavior. The topic is food for teachers and preachers, and is best served giraffe-high.

But in the goat-level language of the state Capitol, ethics is merely politics conducted by other means.

Gov. Nathan Deal/Kent D. Johnson, kdjohnson@ajc.com

Gov. Nathan Deal/Kent D. Johnson, kdjohnson@ajc.com

Got a beef with your opposition in the primary? File a complaint with what we once called the state ethics commission. Accuse him of fudging on donations he’s accepted or spent. It’ll earn you a headline, won’t cost a penny and will take years to resolve.

It is a highly cynical view — sometimes correct, sometimes not — that can produce a highly cynical defense.

Which brings us to Holly LaBerge’s now-famous memo, and a backstory destined to become campaign boilerplate:

Shortly after Deal was sworn in as governor in 2011, a number of complaints were filed – some by gadflies, some not – with the, er, transparency commission, alleging that the new governor hadn’t followed all the rules when collecting or spending his campaign cash.

Things usually move slowly at the transparency commission – not surprising, given agency funding cuts. (Something like shooting an unwanted employee in the leg, then docking his pay for limping.)

But by the spring of 2011, Stacey Kalberman, the transparency commission’s executive secretary, and her No. 2 began to prepare subpoenas aimed at the Deal campaign. They were sacked.

Funding cuts were said to be the reason, and the governor’s office assured us that the commission is an independent agency over which Deal holds no sway. Three years later, the story did not impress a jury. You and I are now paying $3 million to Kalberman, three other employees and their attorneys for wrongful termination.

Kalberman was replaced by LaBerge – who was recruited by a member of the governor’s staff before the Great Sacking.

A resolution of the Deal complaints crept forward, and was scheduled for a July 23, 2012, hearing. Seven days before, LaBerge received a series of communications from the Deal camp.

If the judicial nature of the transparency commission were dominant, the call would have been from Randy Evans, the attorney for the campaign. But the “quasi” nature of the commission held sway.

First came a text message from Chris Riley, chief of staff for the governor. Then a text and call from Ryan Teague, Deal’s staff counsel and the fellow who recruited LaBerge for her job. Neither had a formal connection to the governor’s campaign. Both clout-heavy aides are paid by you and me.

State Sen. Jason Carter at a press conference near the state Capitol on Tuesday, reacting to allegations by the head of the state ethics commission that she was threatened to "make the complaints" against the governor "go away, " according to a memo she wrote. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

State Sen. Jason Carter at a press conference near the state Capitol on Tuesday, reacting to allegations by the head of the state ethics commission that she was threatened to “make the complaints” against the governor “go away, ” according to a memo she wrote. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

Teague offered a low-ball settlement, with a carrot that LaBerge included in her memo:

“Ryan informed me that it was not in the agency’s best interest for these cases to go to a hearing Monday; nor was it in their best political interest either, and that our rule-making authority may not happen if the complaints were not resolved prior to Monday.”

The transparency commission’s ability to make rules regarding the use and gathering of campaign cash had been restricted by state lawmakers a few years earlier. Restoration of that authority was a top priority. The commission’s chairman, Kevin Abernethy, had written an opinion piece on the topic for this newspaper only a few days earlier.

Teague’s threat, as alleged by LaBerge: Play ball or remain a hamstrung agency stripped of almost all influence.

On July 23, the transparency commission levied $3,500 in fees on the Deal campaign for technical violations, and dismissed all other complaints. The commission’s rule-making authority was restored when the Legislature next met.

The governor has found no fault with how his aides approached LaBerge. On Tuesday, as his Democratic opponent, Jason Carter, was about to unload on him, the governor made this observation:

“I was hoping [Carter] would have a press conference …to explain why he was soliciting campaign funds for governor before the General Assembly session is over. Which is a clear violation of campaign laws,” Deal said.

Like I said — at the Capitol, ethics and politics are entwined to the point that one topic is indistinguishable from the other.

Another thing: If the judicial nature of our quasi-judicial transparency commission were dominant, the threats alleged by LaBerge, as recorded in her memo, would have been entered into the record of the commission’s deliberations. Or the memo would have been released in response to multiple requests by this and other news outlets. It was not.

LaBerge pocketed the information — an apparent act of political self-protection — for a year before handing it to Attorney General Sam Olens, who now faces criticism himself for failing to disclose it.

Perhaps it is time to restore the word “ethics” to that non-transparent commission. It might not have any immediate effect, but it could give us something to shoot for.

83 comments
FirstDerivative
FirstDerivative

Never in a million years could anyone convince me that Sam Olens was dirty.  Now we have proof.

FirstDerivative
FirstDerivative

For Deal and his crew they tend to fly below zero on anything having to do with truth, ethics, propriety, and law. They have no scruples, so they do not surprise me.


Sam Olens is another story. I am shocked that he is that corruptible. I just hope the federales can come quickly with handcuffs, jail cells, law books and that the Georgia voter will find the courage to clean house.

lvg
lvg

I thought if  you were a Republican governor in the deep South you had to be white, bigoted, ignorant and a little bit crooked. Main thing that counts is that you hate Obama and do not care for universal health care ie. Obamacare. Ethics is something the liberals are concerned about.

radiohead57
radiohead57

I await with bated breath Gov. Deal's series of "Checkers > I am not a crook . resignation" speeches that will follow after he fires his underlings while saying he was kept  in the dark about this.  Sure he was. 


Even if you are a dyed in the wool member of the the Republican Party you have to admit to yourself that  Sir James Porter had a point  when he wrote in 1768:  

"The Turks have a homely proverb applied on such occasions: they say "the fish stinks first at the head", meaning, that if the servant is disorderly, it is because the master is so."

Same thing applies to Beverly Hall and and the APS scandal. 

dreluv
dreluv

It sad that td1234 would take up for a crook such as Nathan Deal...No way Nathan Deal should be govermor he is the worst governor in this country..Nathan Deal cost tax payer $3 million.

Only a crazy person would defend a crook.

honested
honested

What was it randy evans once said at a fundraser?

Oh yeah, now I remember "Ethics (laugh) that would mean we can't cheat. If we can't cheat, we may not win and winning is all we are here for!

btn
btn

Lets be clear, there is an ethics problem at the state capitol.  It is not a GOP issue, it is not a Democrat issue, it is just the fact that the vast majority of the politicians in this state are crooks and they have gone to great efforts to defang the only group of people that have any chance of reigning them in(other than the voters).

The funny thing about this scandal is that it just might be Olens who gets it worse than the Deal in the end.

findog
findog

This is old news

Georgia knew Deal was a crook when he was elected governor

As long as he has the (R) behind his name on the ballot it is likely he will win again

hamiltonAZ
hamiltonAZ

"why was jason carter, blah, blah, blah?"

If history is any guide, we'll 1) never know if or why; OR 2) we'll learn something about it 4-6 years from now and he'll be levied a small fine shortly after his reelection.

"... saw 10,000 talkers whose tongues were all broken..."

hamiltonAZ
hamiltonAZ

"My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards False goals, I scuff at pettiness which plays so rough..."

To paraphrase Clark Howard, the "State No-Ethics Commission."

td1234
td1234

There is no point Mr Galloway in this entire blog post besides to keep the story going for the progressive faithful.. 

SomebodySaid
SomebodySaid

@FirstDerivative Is he that corruptible, or that spineless and stupid? Or, is he an overzealous sycophant trying to fall on his sword for his King only the King is falling right on top of him?

fatleo
fatleo

@dreluv ... arguably the big guy in Jersey is the worst gov in the country ...

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

@btn Ethics is not a GOP or Democratic issue, it is a southern/rural based conservative issue.

seasea77
seasea77

@findog I have trouble grasping why GA is like that.  They will vote for crooks and crazy people like Kingston before a sensible, reasonable human being.  A co-worker told me several years ago  that if Jesus Christ himself were to run in Georgia as a Democrat, he would lose.

td1234
td1234

@findog This is only thing Democrats can run on because their true philosophy has been totally rebuked by the vast majority of Georgia citizens. 

NOlongerRepublican
NOlongerRepublican

@td1234 As it should be in the news until something is done about the crook. Some of us want honest leaders who will work for the good of the entire state, not just their friends, family and campaign donors.

NorthAtlanta
NorthAtlanta

@td1234 

This will be repeated ad nauseum by these guys.  Count on it.  Although I will say that I think this looks bad and is newsworthy.  I don't like it when political operatives get involved in the legal process.  There's no proof that Deal knew what was going on, but I'd give it 50/50.  Same thing for Obama and the IRS stuff.

td1234
td1234

@seasea77 Jesus would never run as a Democrat because he would be opposed to abortion, gay marriage and would not have denied God three times at a convention. 

fatleo
fatleo

@td1234 @findog the vast majority of Georgia citizens?  As the days pass by I do believe the vast majority will get a better set of glasses and see the real truth - not just the spin manufactured by the GOP ... Wanna bet a chicken dinner?

honested
honested

@td1234 @findog 

Tiny dog, 

Tell me again, why can't republiklans run on 'their record of achievement'?

findog
findog

@td1234 @findog vast subsumes a far superior margin of victory than the Georgia GOP has actually achieved

Chris30338
Chris30338

@NorthAtlanta @td1234 Completely incorrect analogy. The IRS isn't on Obama's personal staff. These people were part of the Governor's staff.

CherokeeCounty
CherokeeCounty

@td1234 @seasea77  Of course Jesus would be a liberal today.  He never said anything about abortion, and a literal reading of Exodus 21:22 and 23 would indicate God considers life to begin at birth, not conception.  (Which by the way, was essentially your denomination's view until the 1980's.)

Jesus never mentioned homosexuality.

And the Dem convention? The boos were for the procedure, not God.  And I would guess you know that.  But then that whole 'bearing false witness' thing never bothers conservatives all that much does it.

NOlongerRepublican
NOlongerRepublican

@td1234 @seasea77 You really don't know Jesus very well do you? You just repeat the same old tired crap you here at the right wing baptist church you go to.  Jesus never once said anything about abortion or gays. Not once is it recorded in scripture even though there were male prostitutes at the temples.  Not ONE mention by Jesus. Yet he talked time and time again about how you should treat people and especially the poor. NOTHING the Republicans stand for is based on Christian teachings. So get over it and just admit that you don't like poor people. You don;t like gays and you definitely do not like women having control over their bodies. Quit hiding behind your false teachings to justify your hatred and bigotry!

td1234
td1234

@honested


Listen to what Deal is running on.


Kept your taxes down.

Brought in millions of dollars into the state in investments and jobs. 

Kept government spending down. 


Now tell us what Carter is running on?

td1234
td1234

@findog @td1234 You do not call  8 to 10 points a superior margin of victory? Romney beat Obama by 8 two years ago and Deal beat Barnes by 10 four years ago. 


Obama beat Romney by 4 nationwide in 2012 and progressives were calling it a landslide. 

NorthAtlanta
NorthAtlanta

@Chris30338 

Well, the WH is not complying with the subpoena for one of their staff members, so it does make it hard to get to the bottom of it.  Obama's appointee, the chief counsel to the IRS has already been implicated, however.

td1234
td1234

@CherokeeCounty There was no such thing as abortion in his days. 


You really can sit here and say that Jesus would approve of abortion? Really? You really can sit here and tell us that Jesus would approve of Gay Marriage? 



midtowncowboy
midtowncowboy

@CherokeeCounty @td1234 @seasea77


He never said anything about abortion, 

Jesus never mentioned homosexuality


bawahahahaha.  hahahah.  <take deep breath>  hahahahahahaahaahahaahaahahaah


you ignorant fool..

td1234
td1234

@NOlongerRepublican

You really believe Jesus would approve of abortion and gay marriage? 


About the poor, yes Jesus talked about the Church and the individual's responsibility to take care of the widows and the orphans. He did not say one word about it being the states responsibility to take care of the able bodied. He did not say it was good to turn people into hopeless souls dependent on the government for their subsistence.  

honested
honested

@td1234 @honested 

Brought millions of dollars into the state?

  Oh you mean campaign contributions!!

Kept government spending down?

    Except for the millions spent on attempting to keep him         out of jail.

Kept your taxes down?

    Taxes are the smallest portion of my expenditures. I would     gladly pay more for improved education and infrastructure.

So what record is it that deal is running on?

honested
honested

@td1234 @findog 

Even RCP only hopes for a margin of 2 points, on polls that are 6 weeks old.

Let's wait until new polling supports your foolish assumptions.

honested
honested

@NorthAtlanta @Chris30338 

Are you referring to 'hollow subpoenas' which have no committee vote, no minority acclaim and otherwise nothing but the hair up the majority chair's bottom?

Of course I shouldn't expect much more from such a sad, pathetic, misguided individual typing from his mom's basement.

coj
coj

@td1234 @CherokeeCounty Depends on your definition of abortion. If it's contraception, I think Jesus might approve.

HueyMahl
HueyMahl

@td1234 @CherokeeCounty Abortion?  Probably not.  Gay Marriage?  Probably so.


KInd of a silly argument.  Until he comes back, we won't know.

td1234
td1234

@midtowncowboy You my friend do not know Jesus as your personal Lord and savior if you really believe Jesus would approve of abortion or gay marriage. 

td1234
td1234

@honested


"In Georgia, the FiveThirtyEight projection is far more pessimistic about Democratic prospects than the polls. Here’s why: No Democrat holds an elected statewide office in Georgia. No Democrat has won a U.S. Senate race in the state in 14 years. No Democrat has won a presidential race in the state in 22 years. The Democratic candidate, Michelle Nunn, is probably benefitting from name recognition; her father, Sam Nunn, was a well-regarded senator from the Peach State. That edge may disappear once voters realize Michelle is not Sam. Moreover, Republicans may coalesce around the winner of thecontentious GOP primary between Jack Kingston and David Perdue."


http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/democrats-are-in-a-perilous-position-in-2014-senate-races/

Kamchak
Kamchak

@honested 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/16/darrell-issa-hearing_n_5592009.html

 WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, seemed to catch everyone off guard Wednesday when he suddenly pulled the plug on his committee hearing before witnesses could even testify.

[...]

 But two things were apparent to those following the hearing: First, Issa began the hearing irritated that the White House had dismissed his subpoena to compel Obama's political office director, David Simas, to testify. He called it "deeply disturbing" that White House counsel Neil Eggleston said Simas was immune from a congressional subpoena. Second, and perhaps more tellingly, Issa may have wanted to prevent Lerner from testifying since, based on the written testimony she provided ahead of the hearing, she was planning to say the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach had done nothing inappropriate, which contradicted Issa's claims leading up to the hearing.

hamiltonAZ
hamiltonAZ

history in the age of new media is instructive but not gold . how recent was it that karl rove spoke of a permanent republican majority?