Ethics panel changes course, asks state auditor to investigate

The state ethics commission on Tuesday changed course and asked the state Department of Audits and Accounts to conduct an internal investigation of the agency.

The commission, formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, had previously voted to ask Attorney General Sam Olens to appoint a special investigator.

In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, commission Chairman Kevin Abernethy said the auditor is charged in state law with handling charges of misconduct or mismanagement by a state employee. The statement also said this route would save taxpayers dollars as a special investigator appointed by Olens would likely be a private attorney charging a normal rate.

The auditor, who is hired by and reports to the General Assembly, has subpoena power but cannot bring criminal charges, even if warranted.

The commission had voted to seek an independent probe after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that current and former commission employees have alleged in sworn testimony that commission executive director Holly LaBerge ordered documents removed from the case file of the commission’s investigation into Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2010 campaign for governor. They also claim LaBerge bragged that Deal “owed” her for scuttling the case against him.

The governor has said he received no special treatment in the handling of the case, and LaBerge has testified that she did not interfere in it.