Ethics panel drops Deal complaints, settles others for $3,350
By JIM WALLS
July 23, 2012 — The state ethics commission today dismissed two serious allegations of campaign misconduct by Gov. Nathan Deal and charged him $3,350 to settle dozens of other technical violations in his financial disclosures.
The actions close the books on five complaints, some pending for more than two years, involving Deal’s public accounting of his personal assets and liabilities and the propriety of more than $320,000 in campaign spending.
Randy Evans, Deal’s lawyer, also said he will seek attorney’s fees from complainant George Anderson for the cost of defending two other dismissed cases that Evans described as “completely and totally frivolous.” Lawmakers in 2010 authorized the commission to consider assessing such fees, a practice that critics said would intimidate potential complainants.
In brief, the commission today:
- Decided Deal was legally entitled to spend about $120,000 raised for a state campaign to defend himself against federal ethics charges stemming from his tenure in Congress.
- Found that commission rules on non-commercial flights do not address, and therefore most likely do not apply, to the manner in which his campaign paid for use of an aircraft in 2010.
- Charged Deal $2,650 in fees for 53 technical violations for failing to identify the holder of a credit card used for campaign purchases.
- Assessed another $600 in fees for discrepancies on personal financial disclosures. Deal filed three such disclosures for 2010, each one reporting assets and debts differently.
- Tacked on $100 in fees for reporting two small contributions improperly, making it appear that the donors had exceeded limits on campaign contributions.
Evans made a point of noting that state law defines the charges for technical defects in campaign reports as “administrative fees,” not fines.
The aircraft allegations had drawn particular public interest because the campaign chose to pay $201,000 to lease aircraft through a company in which he was a partial owner. Other owners of the aircraft included Philip Wilheit, his campaign manager; Jim Walters, a longtime friend and political supporter; and, at one time, chief of staff Chris Riley.
Commission rules specify the rates at which campaigns should report the value of flights on non-commercial aircraft. But, Evans said, those rules do not work as guidelines for shared aircraft ownership, an increasingly common practice.
Today’s decision did not address the Deal campaign’s failure to report departure and destination airports for individual flights, information that is required by commission rules. Federal Aviation Administration records show the aircraft made hundreds of flights during Deal’s campaign in 2009 and 2010, often to destinations outside Georgia, but do not identify the passengers.