And man, is Karma a bitch:Less than a year after Georgia’s ethics director said she felt pressured to settle ethics complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal, the governor wrote a letter recommending her inclusion in the Leadership Georgia program.
The governor wrote the letter despite the fact that he’s said he doesn’t really know the ethics commission’s executive director, Holly LaBerge.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained a copy of the recommendation a week after it reported that text and e-mail messages between LaBerge and Deal’s chief of staff, Chris Riley, showed the two engaged in lighthearted banter around the time LaBerge claimed to have been pressured to settle Deal’s cases in July 2012.
In a later text from May 2013, LaBerge followed up on a request to Riley to get a letter of recommendation to back up her application to Leadership Georgia, an affiliate of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce that trains a select group of future leaders.
Weeks later, in July, Riley texted LaBerge with positive news: “I just got a text from the review panel for LG (Leadership Georgia). You are in play. This is a good thing.”
In a letter Deal wrote June 11, 2013, the governor says, “It is my pleasure to recommend Holly LaBerge to the Leadership Georgia class of 2014. While working in various positions throughout state government, Holly has shown leadership in improving government transparency throughout Georgia.
“I believe Holly LaBerge would be an excellent candidate for Leadership Georgia. Her unique and diverse perspective on the many challenges that face our state should fit in well in Leadership Georgia’s mission. I would appreciate your consideration of her application.
LaBerge wasn’t accepted into the program. The group gets about 600 applications and accepts 63.
Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, said the governor has written about 20 similar recommendations since taking office. - The Augusta Chronicle, 7/29/14
By the way, Deal's spokesman isn't doing him any favors:Last week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that in July 2012 Holly LaBerge, the current head of the state's ethics commission, wrote a memo outlining political intimidation by Deal's staff. In the memo, she noted that the governor's top lawyer, Ryan Teague threatened to strip her agency of its rulemaking authority in order to deep-six the investigation of Deal's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. LaBerge's memo also said that Deal's chief of staff, Chris Riley, pressured her to close the matter, which the commission eventually did. "I was mad that the governor's legal counsel thought he could call me up and threaten me and threaten my agency," LaBerge told the local Fox station.
The FBI and the state inspector general have been reviewing the ethics commission's activities, and LaBerge's attorney said the ethics chief would want whistleblower protections for her cooperation. If she is granted protection, she might be in the position to disclose more about this episode, and Deal could face more damaging stories.
Deal's ethics commission troubles date back to 2011. Then LaBerge's predecessor, Stacey Kalberman, and Kalberman's deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, began examining Deal's 2010 campaign spending. They suspected that Deal, who had served nine terms in Congress before running for governor, might have improperly directed campaign funds to businesses to which he had ties. Kalberman and Streicker alerted the ethics panel's five commissioners of their intention to issue subpoenas for information. The commissioners responded by slashing Kalberman's salary by $35,000, effectively forcing her out, and eliminating Streicker's job.
This April, a jury sided with Kalberman in a lawsuit claiming that she was targeted for political retribution, granting her $700,000 in compensation. (The case ended up costing the state over $1.1 million, including legal fees.) "I always knew it was about somebody's desire to quash the Deal investigation," Kalberman told the local NBC affiliate, after the case concluded.
Once Kalberman left the state ethics commission in 2011, LaBerge filled the post. She was chosen at the suggestion of Deal's chief lawyer. At the alleged urging of Deal's staff, LaBerge—who would later complain of being strong-armed—quickly dispensed with the investigation Kalberman had initiated, and the commission dismissed the case against Deal, with the governor's campaign agreeing to pay a mere $3,350 for minor filing problems.
Deal has denied any wrongdoing on the part of his aides. "They were simply urging the [ethics commission] staff to proceed in a timely fashion," the governor told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. - Mother Jones, 7/25/14
Not only is Deal ridiculous, he's also hypocritical:In an April 9 email to other Deal aides, Robinson sent a link to an Insider post detailing ethics chief Holly LaBerge’s critique of the governor’s ethics overhaul. Below the link were these words:
“She told the AJC that she doesn’t like the governor’s proposal because the commission would be too big and would outnumber the employees. I’m stuffing a pillow in my mouth to stifle my screams.”
The note, obtained as part of a broader public records request, offers a glimpse at the office’s attitude toward the ethics chief, who is increasingly in the middle of a campaign fight.
Remember, this memo was sent long before the now-infamous LaBerge ethics memo surfaced in public. In that memo, LaBerge claimed that Deal’s staffers threatened her to make an ethics complaint “go away.” (Deal’s staff doesn’t dispute there was contact but says there was never any threat.)
Yet in the months before the memo’s release, Deal faced accusations that LaBerge was his puppet. That’s partly because whistleblowers claimed she bragged that Deal “owed” her, and because his executive counsel Ryan Teague recruited her for the role. Deal has repeatedly said he didn’t know LaBerge and did nothing wrong.
When asked about the email, Robinson stuck to the same line he did after the memo was made public. He argued that it’s another sign that his office never had any sway over LaBerge.
“This was one more glaring piece of evidence that she was not and never had been our pawn, but yet that was the prevailing narrative of the time. Stifled screams into a pillow is exactly how it felt. We were speaking truth but no one would listen. I think people believe us now, and I’m currently only using bedding textiles for their prescribed purpose.” - Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/24/14
Yep, the immigration debate has come to Georgia and Deal has been trying to hit Jason Carter (D. GA) with it:Gov. Nathan Deal has gone to great lengths to assure his supporters that he’s against the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. But he carved out one exception this week.
It has to do with the more than 1,100 unaccompanied immigrant children transferred by the feds this year to the care of sponsors living in Georgia. The influx comes amid a surge of Central American children fleeing instability and violence at home to illegally cross the southwest border.
The governor said in an interview he expects their number to grow, and that he’s hearing they could be granted official refugee status. That means they could be eligible for state welfare programs, the costliest being healthcare coverage.
And that’s where Deal is in favor of the feds picking up the full tab for a very limited Medicaid expansion. Said Deal:
“I would suggest if they are going to do it in that fashion, if they want somewhere they can spend 100% of the cost of Medicaid expansion, it ought to be in this refugee program. The federal government ought to pick up 100% of that tab.” - Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/29/14
We have a serious shot at beating Deal here and turning Georgia blue. Click here to donate and get involved with Carter's campaign:Shortly after Deal’s office announced the letter, his campaign spokesman Jen Talaber sent out her own missive declaring the children are “victims of misguided federal policy implemented by President Obama” and criticizing his rival, state Sen. Jason Carter, for voting against an immigration crackdown.
“Where does he stand now that he knows the humanitarian crisis this has sparked? Does he think the Obama administration is handling this well? Does he think the administration should continue sending unaccompanied minors to Georgia without informing the state?”
Carter spokesman Bryan Thomas initially sent over a statement calling on Congress to “act quickly to secure our border and fix our broken immigration system.”
Carter’s camp later questioned why Deal, when in Congress, didn’t aggressively challenge the 2008 law that’s seen as the reason behind the wave of refugees. That law, which passed unanimously, required judges to hold hearings for young immigrant children from countries outside of Mexico and Canada to protect them from sex traffickers. From the Carter campaign:
“Why did Gov. Deal not object to this legislation when it came before the House of Representatives? Will he accept the consequences of his own actions, or lack-thereof?” - Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/25/14