Ethics Office Says Ex-Rep. Deal Violated House Rules

Posted March 29, 2010 at 11:49am

Updated: 1:15 p.m.

The Office of Congressional Ethics on Monday released its investigation into ex-Rep. Nathan Deal (R), alleging the Georgia lawmaker violated House rules and used his office for personal gain in connection with his family’s auto-salvage business.

The report’s release also marks an unprecedented move in the fragile relationship between the OCE and the House ethics committee: The OCE said it published its findings in the Deal case because the House ethics committee missed a March 22 deadline to do so — even though Deal submitted his resignation just minutes before the deadline.

“Providing information to the public, improving transparency, is an essential element of the OCE’s mission,” OCE spokesman Jon Steinman said Monday. “The OCE board’s unanimous vote to release its report in this matter is, in letter and spirit, a fulfillment of that mission.”

Deal resigned his House seat at 11:45 p.m. March 21 to dedicate himself full time to his gubernatorial campaign.

He had previously acknowledged the existence of a Congressional ethics investigation into a state-funded program that benefits his family auto-salvage business, and he denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

Deal’s attorney Randy Evans dismissed the report Monday as inaccurate and reiterated that Deal had tied his retirement date to the House vote on health care reform, which occurred March 21.

“I think there were things that were obviously incorrect in the committee’s report. We pointed that out. I was disappointed that the committee didn’t take more time to get it right,” Evans said. He added: “There were affidavits and other information that were submitted that made it clear that nothing in appropriate or improper had happened.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in December that documents obtained via the state’s Open Records Act showed that both the House ethics committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics contacted state offices about Deal.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics committee, has never confirmed its investigation into Deal, and it is unclear if the committee officially closed its probe of Deal when he resigned. The panel’s jurisdiction is limited to current Members, employees or officers of the House.

It is not clear whether Deal was still under the House’s jurisdiction March 22. The Clerk of the House notes Deal’s resignation occurred March 21 but was not effective until March 23.

Roll Call reported on March 24 that public reports issued by the OCE — which offer statistics but not the details of its investigations — indicated it had completed its probe into the allegations against Deal in late December.

According to its most recent report, OCE investigators opened only one new inquiry in the last half of 2009. That investigation began in October — the Journal-Constitution reported in December that state records showed OCE investigators contacted a state office in October — and appears to have ended its second and final phase in late December, at which time it would have referred the matter to the ethics committee.

A telephone call to the House ethics committee was not immediately returned.

In its report released Monday, the OCE recommended further investigation of Deal by the House ethics committee.

Whenever the OCE issues a referral to the ethics committee, that panel has up to 90 days to review the matter — an initial 45-day period and an optional 45-day extension — and determine its next step.

When the OCE recommends further investigation, the ethics committee must also issue a public statement on the referral at the end of the first 45-day period.

According to the OCE report issued Monday, that 45-day period expired March 22, but the ethics panel did not issue a statement at that time.

The OCE voted Friday to release its report on Deal. The OCE utilized a rule in the resolution that established the office — adopted into House rules at the start of the 111th Congress — that allows its eight-member board to vote to release “any communication to any person or entity … as necessary to conduct official business or pursuant to its rules.”

The Journal-Constitution reported in early 2008 that Deal objected to proposals by a Georgia state official to expand the number of inspection stations in the state and award contracts to those stations through a competitive bidding process.

With his business partner Ken Cronan, Deal owns Recovery Services Inc., also known as Gainesville Salvage & Disposal, one of the eight existing inspection stations.

Business records obtained by the Journal-Constitution show Deal’s Gainesville Salvage & Disposal earned $1.5 million from 2004 to 2008 from the salvage inspection program.