The head of Georgia’s ethics commission is accused of improperly intervening into an investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal, raising serious questions about the independence of the state panel charged with keeping watch over Georgia’s elected officials.
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Staff writers Chris Joyner, Kristina Torres and James Salzer contributed to this article.
2009 and 2010
May 2009: U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, a Republican, announces he will seek the governorship.
August 2010: Deal wins the nomination by 2,519 votes in a runoff with former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.
November 2010: Deal wins the governorship by defeating Democrat Roy Barnes, a former governor.
January-May: The top two staff members of the state ethics commission, Executive Director Stacey Kalberman and her deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, open an investigation of the Deal campaign. They meet with federal prosecutors and the FBI concerning their inquiry. The two draw up subpoenas for Deal and others and prepare to serve them.
June: Kalberman and Streicker are gone from their jobs. Streicker’s job is eliminated. Kalberman’s salary is cut from $120,000 to $85,000, and she resigns. The chairman of the ethics commission, Patrick Millsaps, says he needed to cut costs.
June: Kalberman and Streicker file separate whistle-blower lawsuits against the state.
July 23: The state ethics commission clears Deal of major ethics violations while finding he made “technical defects” in a series of personal financial and campaign finance reports. Deal agrees to pay fees totaling $3,350.
July 26: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution requests access to the closed investigative file under the state Open Records Act.
July 30: Ethics commission Executive Director Holly LaBerge, who succeeded Kalberman, responds that the agency is “still working on organizing” the file and estimates the work, including redacting “appropriate information,” will be complete by Wednesday, Aug. 8
Aug. 9: Three AJC reporters review thousands of pages released by the commission but notice the file includes little of the material produced by Kalberman and Streicker.
Aug. 10: The AJC emails LaBerge and commission Chairman Kevin Abernethy to inquire whether all of Kalberman’s and Streicker’s records were included in the file.
Aug. 27: LaBerge tells the AJC that additional records are available for inspection.
Sept. 1: The AJC reports that Kalberman and Streicker held several meetings with federal public corruption authorities to discuss the ethics commission’s investigation into Deal. The U.S. Attorney’s Office would not confirm nor deny that there had been a federal investigation into Deal. Referring to the meetings, Deal lawyer Randy Evans said “there was never anything to it.”
Sept. 13: Kalbernam amends her whistle-blower suit to say that Millsaps contacted Evans, a confidante of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, about a job in Gingrich’s presidential campaign. Millsaps joined the campaign by late December of 2011 and eventually became its chief of staff. Millsaps and Evans both denied the accusation.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been following the state’s ethics commission since before the departure of Executive Director Stacy Kalberman and her deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, in June 2011. Staff writers have reviewed documents and conducted interviews with current and former staffers, as well as members of Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaign and office staff. Today’s story involves accusations that the head of the ethics commission improperly intervened into an investigation of complaints against the governor.