Ethics office says ex-Rep. Deal may have violated House rules
Updated 3:21 p.m.
By Ben Pershing
The Office of Congressional Ethics said Monday that ex-Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) may have violated House rules by earning too much outside income and by lobbying Georgia officials to steer state business to an auto salvage company he co-owned.
Deal resigned from the House on the night of March 21, just hours after casting his vote against President Obama's health-reform plan. Deal said he was quitting to focus on his campaign for Georgia governor, after having been persuaded by GOP leaders to stay in the House long enough to oppose the health measure.
In late January, the OCE -- a bipartisan, quasi-independent office charged with vetting allegations against members of Congress and deciding whether they merit review by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct -- voted to refer allegations against Deal to the ethics committee for possible further action. Because Deal is no longer in Congress, he is now beyond the disciplinary jurisdiction of the ethics committee.
On Friday, the OCE unanimously voted to release the report it sent to the ethics committee earlier this year. "Representative Deal's conduct may have violated House Rules and House Standards of Conduct," OCE concluded.
A Deal campaign spokesman responded by calling the investigation "a political witch hunt."
In August, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Deal "personally intervened with Georgia leaders to preserve an obscure state program" that benefited Gainesville Salvage & Disposal, a company he owned with a business partner, Ken Cronan. The company has a longtime agreement with Georgia to help the state inspect salvaged vehicles, and the newspaper reported that the state program earned Deal's company $1.5 million from 2004 to 2008.
In its report released Monday, OCE found that Deal "sought to preserve a state vehicle inspection program that had generated significant personal financial benefit for him and a business partner. Representative Deal attended meetings on the state inspection program with Georgia officials and told the OCE he attended the meetings, not as a private citizen, but rather as a 'public servant' acting in some official capacity. Changes to the vehicle inspection program concerned a purely state issue and according to state officials, no other Member of Congress from Georgia involved themselves in it."
OCE also noted that "Deal was accompanied by his chief of staff at meetings on the vehicle inspection program and directed the chief of staff to use a House e-mail account to send e-mails related to the meetings," despite clear prohibitions in House rules against using official resources to advance private business interests.
On his official financial disclosure statement for 2008, Deal reported earning between $50,001 and $100,000 in "dividend income" from the salvage company. But according to OCE, Deal reported $75,000 in earned wages from the company on his 2008 tax returns.
The maximum amount of outside earned income lawmakers were allowed to take in under House rules for that year was just under $26,000, leading the OCE to conclude that Deal may have violated House rules both by exceeding that earned income limit and failing to properly disclose his finances.
In response to the release of the OCE report, Deal campaign spokesman Harris Blackwood said: "This has always been a political witch hunt fueled by Democrats who fear that Roy Barnes will lose the governor's race to Nathan Deal. In its own report, the Office of Congressional Ethics admits that its efforts were incomplete and it does NOT conclude that Mr. Deal did anything wrong. That's because Nathan Deal did nothing wrong."
Blackwood charged that the probe wad "an attempt by Nathan's political opponents to drag his good name through the mud. ... The only shred of truth in this political attack is that an innocent accounting error was made and subsequently corrected."
The OCE is run by a six-member board that is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Deal is currently locked in a tight GOP primary contest against multiple contenders for the right to take on former Gov. Roy Barnes, the likely Democratic nominee, in November.
March 29, 2010; 2:29 PM ET
Categories: Capitol Briefing
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