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A campaign aide to Gov. Nathan Deal wrote Republican lawmakers this week saying that the governor would be spending the next four years “returning the favor” to legislators who donate to his campaign, according to an email obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The campaign and Republican lawmakers said Thursday that the governor was talking about helping out in future legislative campaigns, not promising help with legislation, jobs or state funding.
The email, written by David Werner, a deputy chief of staff in the Deal administration who recently moved to the governor’s re-election campaign, was a follow-up to a state House caucus meeting Saturday in Macon during which Deal asked for contributions.
The email ended, “Finally, I’m sure you noticed a major theme of the Governor’s speech: campaign contributions. We really do need and would greatly appreciate your support. As the Governor said, we plan to spend the next four years returning the favor for those that have been supportive of us.”
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for the Deal campaign, said the governor promised to help House members raise money for their campaigns over the next four years if he wins re-election.
“The governor said ‘this is my last election, if you help me, I am going to help you over the next four years in your fundraising efforts,’ ” Robinson said. “That’s what it was about. We are committed to a strong Republican majority, and they are the next generation.”
Werner sent a second email to House members making that clear, Robinson said.
Disclosures released in July showed Deal’s campaign being outraised in recent months by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter, an Atlanta state senator. Deal’s campaign said that was partly due to the governor having a busy work schedule in the months following the 2014 legislative session. He has made fundraising a top priority ever since.
Republican lawmakers were a major source of campaign cash for Gov. Sonny Perdue when he was running for re-election in 2006. Legislators funneled more than $2 million to the state GOP for TV ads backing the governor.
This isn’t the first time Deal’s campaign exhorted lawmakers to pony up. In a conference call with more than 50 GOP legislators in July, the governor urged them to “step up” by donating to his campaign and pointing supporters to upcoming fundraisers.
Senate Minority Whip Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, called Deal’s promise to help donors “pay-to-play.”
“They are reducing lawmakers to nothing more than a money machine,” Fort said. “This is what we have come to expect from the Deal administration.”
State Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, who emceed the caucus event, said the governor presented a spirited “challenge” to lawmakers to help his campaign.
“It was a great message,” Hatchett said. “I don’t think anybody there didn’t understand that if they helped him in his campaign, in two years, when I need help in my district, he’s going to come help.”
State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, who was at Saturday’s caucus meeting, said he donated $6,300 to Deal’s campaign on the spot. “I am pretty high on Nathan,” he said.
Of Deal’s pledge to help lawmakers in the future, Powell said: “That’s the way the game is played. If you help me, I am going to help you down the road, and if I don’t have a (future) election, by God I am really going to help you.”
Carter said Deal’s pledge fit a pattern.
“The message is clear,” he said. “If you want Governor Deal to care about you, then you better be willing to open your wallet for his campaign.”