Shannon McCaffrey of the Associated Press filed the following this afternoon:
Republican gubernatorial hopeful Nathan Deal tapped his state gubernatorial campaign account to pay more than $19,000 in legal fees to defend against congressional ethics allegations.
Deal’s lawyer, Randy Evans, called the move “perfectly legal.”
But one nonpartisan watchdog called the arrangement troubling.
“It doesn’t smell good to me,” said Bill Bozarth, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “It is not money you raise and then use to print fliers and yard signs. It is quite something else.”
The state ethics commission said it was unclear whether the expenditures violated campaign law, which stipulates that campaign funds must be used for “ordinary and necessary expenses” related to running for office. Whether a congressional ethics investigation falls into that category appears to be gray area in Georgia.
Ethics Commission acting executive secretary Tom Plank said he could find no advisory opinion or precedent addressing the use of a state fund to pay for legal fees incurred as part of a federal probe.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the campaign merely followed Evans’ legal advice in writing a check from his state account. Robinson said Deal “adhered closely to the rules while fighting these attacks that stem from the worst kind of politics.”
Evans made two appearances before congressional investigators late last year related to their probe of the congressman’s dealings with state officials on behalf of his Gainesville auto salvage business.
On Dec. 16, Evans accompanied Deal to a 2 1/2 hour meeting in Washington with members of the Office of Congressional Ethics. On Oct. 30, Evans met with investigators in Atlanta.
In 2008 and 2009 Deal, then a member of the U.S. House, lobbied the state’s revenue commissioner to preserve a lucrative no-bid contract that had funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to his company.’
In a report released last month, the Office of Congressional Ethics rapped Deal, saying his conduct may have violated House ethics rules. They recommended that the House Committee on Standards investigate. Deal resigned from the U.S. House on March 21 before the panel decided whether to take up the matter.
Deal has said he resigned so he could focus on winning the Republican nomination for governor. He has maintained that his decision to step down was unrelated to the ethics probe.
Deal’s gubernatorial campaign shelled out $19,714 in legal fees in October and December 2009.
Evans, a well known Republican lawyer who sits on the state election board, confirmed that the money was paid for representation in the ethics case.
Noting that Deal shut down his congressional account at the end of June, 2009 — soon after entering the race for governor — Evans said, “the live campaign picks up the tab.”
Deal’s campaign could not say Friday whether another $17,363 in payments to Evans’ law firm in January and February were related to the ethics investigation.
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