Why is Gov. Nathan Deal, an incumbent Republican governor in the once “reliably red” state of Georgia, in danger of losing his bid for re-election?
While Gov. Deal touts his years of experience, his track record during 34 years in public office is an uninspiring legacy of corruption, self-service and failed leadership.
Gov. Deal’s ethics problems are legendary, to be sure. In 2010, he resigned from Congress to escape likely ethical sanctions for using his position for his own personal financial benefit. He immediately launched his campaign for governor, but the pattern of corruption continued, resulting in a wide-ranging ethics probe, cover-up and federal investigation reaching inside the Office of the Governor. In 2014, the resulting whistleblower lawsuits cost Georgia taxpayers over $3 million dollars.
While many are aware of Gov. Deal’s ethical lapses, few understand the pattern of corruption that entwined Gov. Deal’s political positions and aspirations with his personal finances and businesses.
Over the last three years, Better Georgia’s Bryan Long and I investigated that connection and, last week, published a summary of the results of that work in a new e-book, “Junk Deal: Gov. Nathan Deal and the Longest Running Corruption Scandal in Georgia History.” The e-book is available for free download and tells the story of how corruption in the car salvage business led to the longest, most wide-ranging scandal in Georgia history – a scandal that continues today and dogs Gov. Deal as he stands for re-election next week.
Gov. Nathan Deal claims he built his auto salvage business from scratch and made it a shining example of free market, small business success.
“It is not the government that made us successful,” he preached in recent debate.
But it turns out this isn’t close to the truth.
Nathan Deal built his business with a no-bid government contract that created a government-backed monopoly for his junkyard. Most small business owners don’t have the influence to create a government-backed monopoly and wouldn’t have the brass to make such a deal if they did.
Deal secured his no-bid monopoly while he was still a state senator but, as it happens, he can’t recall how he got the contract worth millions.
“I don’t know there was much of an official thing,” Deal told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But after Deal moved to Congress, the Georgia Department of Revenue decided to end no-bid monopolies and privatize the system, saving $1.7 million off the annual state budget.
Nathan Deal fought tooth-and-nail to keep his no-bid contract — because his financial success depended on it. Sitting in Congress, Deal had to find a way to justify the exclusive no-bid contract that kept his business enterprise afloat.
In a private meeting called by Congressman Deal, he speculated that if this business were open to the free market, “illegal aliens” might end up getting the work.
Congressman Deal didn’t disclose his business arrangement with the U.S. Congress. And that was a big problem.
Congress conducted an investigation and found “substantial reason to believe” that Congressman Deal violated rules limiting outside income, prohibiting income as a corporate officer, requiring full financial disclosure and barring personal use of government resources.
So, to escape sanctions, Deal resigned in disgrace from Congress and campaigned for governor.
During the 2010 campaign, Deal’s companies were bleeding cash and were close to financial collapse. So he found a solution.
The Nathan Deal for Governor campaign paid more than $40,000 to Deal’s daughter-in-law, Denise, as campaign staff, and more than $135,000 in airfare — more than six times what opponents Roy Barnes and Karen Handel spent combined — to North Georgia Aviation, a subsidiary of Deal’s own Gainesville Salvage.
The State Ethics Commission opened an investigation before Deal stepped foot in the governor’s office. The staff at the ethics commission quickly found more than 7,000 separate violations and started moving forward with subpoenas to investigate further. But Deal and his staff blocked the investigation and started a cover-up that would cost Georgia taxpayers $3.1 million in damages.
The entire scandal continues to build today as Gov. Deal collects $10,000 a month from the company that bought his financially failing junkyard. That company owes Georgia $74 million in back taxes but Deal hasn’t collected a penny.
So when Gov. Deal says, “It is not the government that made us successful,” he’s telling his biggest lie of all.
Deal, Inc. — his entire enterprise — wouldn’t exist without taxpayer support and the state government as his biggest and most reliable investor.
The only question that remains is whether or not voters are going to let him get away with it.
Amy Morton is Chair of Better Georgia, Inc. and a 20 year veteran of progressive politics in the Peach State. She previously chaired Georgia’s WIN List, was Vice Chair of Victory 2010, the Coordinated Campaign of the Democratic Party of Georgia and has consulted on multiple candidates and independent committees. A North Carolina native, Amy is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has her own practice in Macon, Georgia where she has lived for the last 28 years.