Monday, July 14, 2014

Ethics chief: Deal's office pressured me to make campaign probe 'go away'

Posted By on Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Georgia's top ethics official is saying that members of Gov. Nathan Deal's office pressured her to cover up an attempted investigation into his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

In a memo obtained by the AJC, Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission Executive Director Holly LaBerge has claimed that Ryan Teague, Deal's chief counsel, told her in July 2012 to "make the complaints" about his campaign "go away." Deal Chief of Staff Chris Riley also pressured her in text messages, the memo said.

This is the first time LaBerge has made any allegations against the governor's office. The AJC's Gold Dome reporter Aaron Gould Sheinin goes into further detail:

LaBerge claims Teague said, “It was not in the agency’s best interest for these cases to go to a hearing … nor was it in their best political interest either.”

Days later, the commission voted during a public hearing to dismiss the major complaints against Deal, who agreed to pay $3,350 in fees for technical defects to his campaign disclosures. The complaints included claims Deal improperly paid for use of a private aircraft for campaign travel and questioned his use of campaign funds to pay legal fees during his 2010 campaign.

LaBerge’s allegations, made in a memo obtained through an open records request, represent the first time she has claimed top aides to Deal personally pressured her to quietly settle the cases against the governor and to avoid a public hearing.

LaBerge's claims follow nearly $3 million in settlements paid out to former state ethics commission employees who alleged that they were pushed out of their jobs because of attempts to launch a campaign probe.

"The only thing I know is if we wanted to have these cases brought before the campaign finance commission in a timely fashion," Deal told WSB-TV earlier today. "We felt that 2 years was long enough." Last fall, he told WSB-TV that "there was no involvement, no improper involvement whatsoever" on his behalf.

Fox 5 Investigate Reporter Dale Russell has teased on Twitter that he recently sat down with LaBerge for an interview. That segment airs tonight at 10 p.m. We'll post an update once we learn more about the allegations.

UPDATE, Tuesday, July 15, 7:34 a.m.: In LaBerge's lengthy sit-down interview with Russell, she denied wrongdoing and outlined the ways in which members of Deal's cabinet threatened her in 2012 while she was on vacation. The threats, she said, came one week before the Deal investigation was scheduled for a public hearing.

“If I'm a puppet put there to make his legal problems go away, why would his legal counsel have to call me up and threaten me?," LaBerge told Fox 5. "Shouldn't his legal counsel be able to say, remember the deal, you're the puppet, we're pulling the strings.”

Watch Russell's full segment with Georgia's top ethics official below:

Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

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