Watchdog files complaint against Rep. Deal

A public watchdog group has filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) for allegedly using his congressional office to prevent an obscure state program that benefits him financially from being changed.

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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed the complaint against Deal, a candidate for governor of Georgia in 2010, with the Office of Congressional Ethics. The group argues Deal used his office to influence Georgia political leaders to not change the business program.

Deal and his business partner Ken Cronan own a business that provides inspection stations to the state for the inspection of salvaged vehicles. The business, Recovery Services Inc., raked in $1.4 million in profits between 2004 and 2008, and Deal pocketed up to $150,000, according to his financial disclosure forms and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which first reported the alleged ethics violations.

CREW’s ethics complaint charges Deal with using the power of his office, and his congressional chief of staff, to try to prevent Georgia Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham from awarding contracts for the inspection system through a competitive bidding process, a step taken to reduce costs. Previously, Recovery Services had obtained the business through no-bid contracts, according to the Atlanta newspaper report.

After Graham made his intentions known, Deal and his staff, with the help of Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, arranged meetings with the commissioner aimed at persuading him to reconsider his decision, including the proposed elimination of $1.7 million previously allocated for the program. Despite the entreaties, the Georgia House passed Graham’s plan. It did not, however, make it through the Senate after Deal’s chief of staff e-mailed several Georgia state officials to lobby against it, the AJC reported.

Deal may have committed a federal crime by using his position and congressional resources, including House computers and staff time, to engage in self-dealing, the complaint alleges. Federal law and House ethics rules require that taxpayer funds, including a member’s allotment for staff salaries and office resources, be used for official business only.  

“Astonishingly, Rep. Deal seems to believe he has the right to use his position as a member of Congress to ensure no one — not even a Georgia official — interferes with his sweetheart deal with the state of Georgia,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement.

“The Office of Congressional Ethics and perhaps the Department of Justice should be able to teach Rep. Deal a valuable lesson: Public service is not intended as a path to self-enrichment.”
    
Deal’s office did not immediately respond to a call for comment.