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After Lawsuit, Deal Proposes Ethics Reforms

Gov. Nathan Deal announced plans to reform the board that regulates campaign finance in the wake of a whistleblower lawsuit involving a top investigator who a jury ruled was fired for looking at his finances too closely.

Deal—speaking to reporters at the University of Georgia today after giving a speech on economic development—criticized the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission for focusing on his 2010 campaign to the exclusion of other cases, calling himself the most-investigated governor in state history.

“It is very clear that we have had a very ineffective commission in terms of being able to deal with cases appropriately and in the fashion they should be dealt with,” Deal said.

A Fulton County jury awarded Stacey Kalbermann, the commission’s former executive director, $700,000 on Friday, ruling that she was fired as retribution for investigating Deal’s campaign finances.

Deal again denied any wrongdoing. 

“We did not have any involvement in that,” he said. “The campaign commission is an independent body.”

Commission staff—including Kalbermann and deputy Sherilyn Streicker, whose position was eliminated—investigated accusations that Deal used his campaign to enrich himself (which the FBI is reportedly looking into as well).

The ethics commission found only minor clerical errors, but former employees say they were pressured to alter files in the Deal investigation, and that current executive director Holly LaBerge, who replaced Kalbermann, bragged about helping the governor.

The reforms Deal outlined this afternoon including changing the makeup of the ethics commission, which currently consists of five members, three of them appointed by the governor. Deal wants each branch of government—the executive, the legislative and the judicial—to appoint four members, for a total of 12. Members would recuse themselves when a case involving the branch that appointed them comes before the commission.

“With the composition of a commission such as I have outlined, you would eliminate any possibility of anyone claiming there was a conflict of interest,” Deal said.

He said he will ask the state legislature to take up the proposal next year and will include addition funding for the commission in his 2016 budget, as well.