The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated former Georgia Rep. Paul Broun in 2014. House Republicans this week proposed and then abandoned a plan to curb the office’s powers. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Disputed ethics office had targeted Gov. Deal and former Rep. Broun

The collapse of a Republican bid to curb the powers of a U.S. House of Representatives ethics office preserved an independent watchdog that has a record for calling Georgia congressmen to account.

The Office of Congressional Ethics targeted Gov. Nathan Deal in 2010 over money he made through a salvage business while he served in the House. In 2014, it accused former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, also a Republican, of using taxpayer funds to pay for a consultant to his failed Senate bid.

Georgia delegation members U.S. Reps. Bob Woodall and Drew Ferguson said they voted for the thwarted effort to change the office, and still hope for an overhaul.

“Most Members of Congress are honest, hard-working public servants, but we must have a strong mechanism to remove the bad apples,” Woodall said in a statement. “The change proposed in the House rules would strengthen the integrity of the House Ethics process.”

Only two of the 10 Republican members of Georgia’s congressional delegation responded to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on how they voted.

The aborted attempt to change the office angered Atlanta-area voters — especially Democrats — who viewed it as a sign of things to come under a new GOP-controlled Congress.

“I was disgusted,” said Buckhead voter Jan Warner, who leans Democrat. “The fact that it was done behind closed doors was very disturbing.”

Republicans only backed off their efforts because of a public outcry, said Carol Anderson from Atlanta, and she suspects they’ll try to gut the office at a later date.

“It shows that the folks who shout the loudest about accountability have absolutely none,” said Anderson. “This [issue] is going to require an eternal level of vigilance.”

Unaffiliated voter George Jones, wondered whether the reversal is a sign that the GOP-led House is too disorganized to move its agenda forward.

“It was a bad idea,” said Jones, of unincorporated DeKalb County. “That demonstrates that there’s too much turmoil in the GOP to get anything done.”

The ethics office was created in 2008 after a series of Congressional scandals. In 2010, its investigators accused Deal of violating House ethics rules by earning too much outside income and using his office to protect a state program that earned a salvage business he co-owned hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Deal stepped down from the House to run for governor before the report was released, apparently ending the inquiry because the ethics office only holds jurisdiction over sitting members of Congress. But the report was released anyway.

In 2014, the office accused Broun of misusing taxpayer dollars to aid his failed Senate campaign. Broun may have paid $43,750 to hire prominent GOP consultant and debate coach Brett O’Donnell because his campaign could not afford him, the report found.

Broun denied misusing taxpayer funds, but O’Donnell pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Macon to lying to investigators about the spending. It was the first time someone had been charged with lying to the Office of Congressional Ethics.

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