Watchdog group demands investigation of Nathan Deal’s top aides

Holly LaBerge, executive secretary of the state ethics commission, testifies in the whistle blower lawsuit brought by Stacey Kalberman, the ethics commission’s former top staffer. Kalberman claimed she was forced from her position after investigating Gov. Nathan Deal's campaign. Brant Sanderlin,

Holly LaBerge, head of the state ethics commission, testifies in a whistle blower lawsuit. Brant Sanderlin/AJC

A watchdog group demanded an
internal investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal’s top aides, claiming that a recently revealed memo drafted by the ethics chief was proof that she was coerced into creating a “politically favorable outcome” for the governor.

Sabrina Smith of Georgia Watchdogs filed the complaint with the Office of the Inspector General claiming that executive counsel Ryan Teague and chief-of-staff Chris Riley, who has now joined the campaign, violated state law prohibiting government employees from coercing co-workers for political gain. You can find your copy here.

The complaint centers on the bombshell memo revealed in July written by ethics chief Holly LaBerge. She claims in the document that Deal’s aides threatened her to make ethics complaints against their boss disappear.

Deal campaign spokesman Brian Robinson said the complaint smacked of politics and that “repetition of untrue statements doesn’t make them true.”

“The file is riddled with so many inaccuracies and so much incorrect speculation that the complainant herself does not appear to take this seriously,” he said. “Whether by laziness or recklessness, this file discredits the accuser, not the accused.”

The LaBerge memo is still rippling through state government. The complaint comes a day after a hearing in which a judge questioned why the memo, written in 2012, was only revealed publicly in July despite requests for similar documents by plaintiffs in whistleblower cases.

It’s the second recent OIG complaint targeting the governor’s staff. Clint Murphy, a former GOP operative turned critic of his party, filed an OIG request in July claiming that Deal press aide Sasha Dlugolenski violated a state ban on political activity during work time through a series of tweets she sent boosting her boss.

Smith’s complaint alleges that Riley and Teague used state resources and state time to try to coerce LaBerge to “settle Gov. Deal’s campaign matters for as little money as possible.” It also claims the office unfairly granted LaBerge a special favor by supporting her application for the Leadership Georgia program.

Deal has said that LaBerge was never threatened. The campaign said that Deal’s private attorneys – not Riley and Teague – were involved in negotiating the final settlement for $3,350 in fees for technical defects on campaign disclosures, and note that the letter of recommendation was sent in June 2013 – long after the investigation was closed.

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