Nathan Deal proposes a 'comprehensive' ethics overhaul in wake of jury verdict

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

The jury verdict siding with a former ethics commission head who claimed she was forced out because she was too aggressively investigating Gov. Nathan Deal's campaign has already sent ripple waves through his office. Today we see one of the results.

Our colleague Janel Davis was with the governor in Athens on Monday, and afterwards he told her and a few other reporters the changes to the five-member ethics panel he plans to push on the campaign trail.

He proposes that the three branches of government - judicial, executive and legislative - each appoint four members to a commission. The 12 members would select a chair, and they would not be allowed to hear any cases involving their branch. Said Deal:

"It is very clear we have had an ineffective commission in terms of being able to deal with cases appropriately and in the fashion they have been dealt with. We have seen for example in the case involving me. ... It appears that the staff spent almost a year focusing exclusively on my campaign."

The governor said this more "comprehensive" commission would not infringe on legislative ethics committees or the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which probes judicial branch issues.

"It is important to remember that this commission now and under any new configuration only deals with issues relating not to taxpayer funds but to private campaign funds that have been raised by candidates," he said.

It echoes a yearslong push by Democrats to make the commission more independent. Democrat Jason Carter's campaign said in a statement that "Gov. Deal is now scrambling to cover himself in the midst of an election year political crisis."

Deal, too, conceded that the overhaul is "probably overdue."

"It has been an ineffective Commission for a very long period of time. Just recently I think we heard that they have not disposed of a single case in many many months, which in my opinion is inexcusable. There are resources available. The proposal that I am making will require legislative action in the next session of the General Assembly. The budget that I will be proposing will include additional funding to be sure that can be carried out."