Nathan Deal’s campaign for governor has paid a company in which the Republican nominee is a part owner more than $135,000 to lease aircraft — many times more than any other candidate for governor in this campaign cycle.
Since its launch in May 2009, Deal’s campaign has paid $6,000 a month for access to an airplane and a helicopter, as well as additional thousands of dollars a month in actual flight costs.
Deal’s Democratic opponent, Roy Barnes, has paid about $16,000 for aviation services since July 1, 2009. Deal’s former rival for the GOP nomination, Karen Handel, paid $6,325.40 in airfare in 2010.
State ethics laws bar candidates from using campaign money for personal benefit. It is unclear whether Deal personally benefited from the money paid to his company.
Chris Riley, Deal’s campaign manager and pilot, said neither Deal, his campaign nor his private company are making money from the arrangement.
The campaign, Riley said, sought an attorney’s opinion “to be sure we are appropriately and correctly abiding by the state ethical guidelines. However, we are more than willing to submit and ask for an advisory opinion [from the Ethics Commission].”
The campaign would not say whether it actually would seek the opinion.
Deal’s campaign pays North Georgia Aviation, a company the former congressman co-owns with a business partner, Ken Cronan. The company does not own an airplane or a helicopter. Instead, North Georgia Aviation is the partial owner of two companies that own a helicopter and an airplane that ferry Deal to campaign stops throughout the state.
The payments to North Georgia Aviation are recorded on his campaign finance reports as the “fixed cost” for aviation or for “operating costs” for aircraft. North Georgia Aviation is a subsidiary of Gainesville Salvage & Disposal, which Deal co-owns with Cronan.
The arrangement is both complex and unusual in Georgia politics and has led Deal to spend more on airfare than any other gubernatorial candidate since 2002, according to campaign finance reports. It could also pose an ethical problem for Deal if the candidate benefited personally, said Yasha Heidari, a former legal counsel to the State Ethics Commission. Read more of the article.