Gov. Nathan Deal, left, and his top aide, Chris Riley, are starting a new public policy firm. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

What Deal plans to do after being Georgia’s governor

After decades in public office, Gov. Nathan Deal will launch a lobbying and consulting firm after he leaves office Monday that will take on corporate clients as well as advocate on public policy issues.

Deal and longtime top aide Chris Riley will start the firm — called Deal, Riley & Associates — that will look to leverage their relationships in state government and knowledge of the inner workings of the Legislature.

He will be the first governor in recent state history to start a lobbying firm that directly works to sway lawmakers. Riley said the governor won’t initially be directly involved in the work: Deal plans to take six months off to recuperate from back surgery.

The new venture continues a partnership that has helped shape Georgia politics over Deal’s two terms. Riley has worked for Deal for more than half his life, including nearly two decades while the Republican was in the U.S. House and eight years as his top aide in the Governor’s Mansion.

Riley, who will register as a lobbyist, plans to play the leading role in the new firm. The governor, who will only serve as a consultant and not lobby for clients, is expected to be in Atlanta on an “as-needed basis” while balancing time from his home in North Georgia and traveling the state speaking to college students.

“I tend to know what the governor thinks, and he knows what I think,” Riley said during a Monday interview in his nearly empty office at the Capitol. “We want to try to take what’s worked as part of the last eight years to the private sector.”

Georgia law bans the heads of agencies, boards and commissions from registering as a lobbyist or engaging in lobbying within a year of leaving the post. 

Riley said the prohibition wouldn’t apply to him because Deal is considered the head of the executive branch, but some transparency advocates say as chief of staff of the governor’s office he should also wait a year. 

“The revolving door policy should cover the head of all departments and public officials. It certainly should cover the chief of staff for the governor,” said Jim Kulstad, who was long a lobbyist for the Georgia chapter of the Common Cause government watchdog group. 

“He could call in favors. It does not pass the smell test,” Kulstad added. “He ought to wait a year before he lobbies people he did work with.”

Other former governors have kept their hand in state politics. Zell Miller was tapped for the U.S. Senate and delivered the keynote address to the Republican National Convention after his two terms.

Roy Barnes returned to his law practice after his electoral defeats, where he took on a string of high-profile cases and remained an influential figure in Democratic politics.

Sonny Perdue worked to boost his family’s influential political network, helping to get his cousin David elected to the U.S. Senate — and later was appointed as President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary.

And Jimmy Carter, of course, parlayed his stint as Georgia governor into a springboard to the White House.

Deal won’t angle for any other electoral office, Riley said. He will use his platform to protect his top agenda items — including a criminal justice overhaul that reworked how Georgia treats nonviolent offenders.

“We’ll look at how we can complement Governor-elect Kemp, how we can complement the General Assembly, how we can ensure criminal justice reform stays in place,” Riley said. “It’s something that’s so important to the governor — he’ll still be a voice on those issues.”

The governor has accrued many favors over the years, including from powerful corporations that lavished him with campaign contributions. In his final year in office, Deal secured a lucrative jet-fuel tax break for Delta Air Lines and lobbied for new investment for Southern Co.’s troubled construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

Riley said the new firm hasn’t signed up those firms or any other clients yet, but that he’ll appeal to businesses with a pitch about success in “getting things across the finish line.”

“I hope that people will hire us because of our experience,” Riley said, “not because they want to even the score or because they feel they owe us.”

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