State reaches deal in ethics violation lawsuits

ATLANTA -- The state has reached settlements in lawsuits surrounding an investigation into Gov. Nathan Deal's 2010 campaign.

Current Ethics Commission Chairman Kevin Abernethy confirmed all of the outstanding lawsuits by former employees of the Georgia ethics commission (formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission) have been settled.

Settlement amounts are:
- Sherilyn Streicker, former commission deputy director: $1 million
- John Hair, former commission computer specialist: $410,000
- Elisabeth Murray-Obertein, former commission atty.: $477,500

Streicker and Hair had filed lawsuits, but Murray-Obertein did not. These settlements come after the April Fulton County jury verdict awarded former commission director Stacey Kalberman $1.3 million.

The former workers claimed they were punished by the commission during their investigation of Governor Nathan Deal's 2010 Gubernatorial campaign. Deal was not named in the lawsuits, but ended up paying $3,350 in fines in 2012.

Abernethy said "We are pleased to put these matters behind us and look forward to proceeding in a positive direction with the work of the commission."

Governor Deal's office released a statement through a spokesman:

Today's settlement marks an agreement between the campaign finance commissioners, the attorney general's office and former state employees. Whatever the merits of the cases, today's settlement shows once again the utter dysfunction of the campaign finance commission, which is supposed to enforce our campaign and lobbying laws in a quick and efficient manner. That's not happening. Gov. Deal wants change, and that's why he's asked his Senate floor leader, Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), to draft and carry legislation that will expand the campaign finance commission and alter the makeup of the board so that no official is judged by an appointee from his or her branch of government. Gov. Deal also renews his call for the current commission to exercise the rule making authority that he signed into law last year. That law expands the commission's powers and gives it the discretion to clarify the often complex rules that govern how campaigns raise, spend and disclose campaign funds.

Deal's opponent in the Gubernatorial election, Jason Carter issued this statement:

"As a taxpayer, I'm outraged, and as a citizen, I'm embarrassed," Carter said. "I'm outraged that we're now on the hook for $3 million, and I'm embarrassed that this is happening in our state.

"Taxpayers deserve to know what Gov. Deal's campaign did that they are working so hard to hide from the public. The cover-up continues, so not only do we have to pay $3 million, but we still don't know what happened. The full investigation needs to be reopened immediately.

"It's unbelievable to me that Gov. Deal doesn't see that his cover-up is the problem, and instead wants to attack the whistleblowers who uncovered it. Whistleblowers are there to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in our government, and Gov. Deal's attacks on them show he's not really committed to restoring ethics in our government.

"These suits showed just how easy it is for elected officials like the governor to interfere with ethics oversight. I fought in the state Senate for a strong and truly independent ethics commission. Gov. Deal and his allies have blocked this reform at every turn."

More on the ethics complaints and lawsuit:

- Ethics Commission whistleblower talks about upcoming trial

- Verdict in ethics case could impact the governor's race

- Ga. ethics commission attorney contacted by FBI

- Sen. Carter blasts governor over ethics reform


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