New conflict policy impacts Gov. Nathan Deal’s latest ethics appointee

The state Ethics Commission has adopted a new conflict-of-interest policy that may mean its newest member has to recuse himself from considering a lot of the cases before the panel.

The commission considers complaints filed against politicians, candidates and political organizations on campaign finance, financial disclosure and lobbyist disclosure issues.

Gov. Nathan Deal last week appointed Atlanta attorney Jake Evans to the panel. The new commission member’s father is Randy Evans, the governor’s personal attorney and a partner in Dentons, a global law firm with lawyers and staffers who have long been heavily involved in Georgia politics.

Under the new conflict policy, commissioners must recuse themselves, or the chairman of the commission may order panel members to recuse themselves, from a case if he or she, or a family member, has a financial interest in a case.

At Monday’s meeting, Evans recused himself from the first two cases. The first involved a former politician once represented by Dentons. The second person was represented by Stefan Passantino, a Dentons attorney who has represented candidates and politicians before the commission for years.

Stefan Ritter, executive director of the commission, said the panel has been working on the new policy for a while. “The idea for a conflict-of-interest policy wasn’t prompted by Mr. Evans being appointed to the commission. That wasn’t directed at Mr. Evans.”

Deal’s office deferred questions on the issue to the commission.

Rick Thompson, a former commission director who does work for Dentons and, in the past, was paid by Deal’s campaigns, said the policy appears overly broad. He said it could impact Dentons’ business representing candidates and politicians.

“I think that it is somewhat concerning because you are taking a law firm that represents a lot of political incumbents and candidates, and has an understanding of the rules and laws, and you have said it will be more difficult for them to come before the commission,” he said.

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