An ethics group in Washington has included U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal on its list of "15 Most Corrupt Politicians."
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — the same group that filed an ethics complaint against Deal with the Office of Congressional Ethics last month — says the Gainesville lawmaker violated House rules and federal law by intervening with Georgia political leaders to save a program that benefits him financially.
Deal, who is running for governor, did not comment on his inclusion on CREW’s list Monday. But the director of communications for Deal’s gubernatorial campaign, Harris Blackwood, brushed off the list and CREW’s credibility.
"First of all, the allegations are untrue and absurd," Blackwood said in a statement he e-mailed to The Times. "These allegations are being made by a group that is supported by George Soros and the same crowd that supports corrupt, liberal organizations like ACORN. That alone speaks for itself."
Deal made CREW’s fifth annual list of corrupt politicians for the first time this year after a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution implied that he pulled strings with help from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to save a state inspection program that earns Deal up to $150,000 a year.
Deal and business partner Ken Cronan are co-owners of Gainesville Salvage and Disposal. The business serves as a site for state employees to inspect rebuilt vehicles twice a month — a deal they have had with the state since shortly after Gainesville Salvage and Disposal opened in 1990.
The state does not pay Gainesville Salvage and Disposal to use the business’ bay area for inspections of salvaged vehicles, but the business charges vehicle owners $100 to use the site for the inspection. The fee in Gainesville is the highest of all the state’s inspection sites.
Deal has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1992. Prior to that, he served in the state Senate from 1980 to 1992. He currently is a Republican candidate for Georgia governor.
CREW claims that by using his congressional power through Cagle, Deal pressured Georgia Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham, who oversees the state’s salvage inspection program, to reconsider a proposal to eliminate funding for the program from the state budget and privatize the program.
The organization filed an ethics complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics based on the report in the Atlanta newspaper.
Whether the Office of Congressional Ethics will investigate CREW’s claim that Deal violated House rules is still unknown. Leo Wise, staff director and chief counsel for the office, said if the office reviews CREW’s allegation, it could take approximately three months.
Wise would not comment on the case specifically, but said a board of private citizens would decide if the complaint was worthy of the office’s review. If the Office of Congressional Ethics reviews the complaint, the results of its investigation will be referred to the House Ethics Committee, Wise said.
"Just because something is filed with us doesn’t mean that it will be investigated," Wise said.
Along with Deal, six other Republicans and eight Democrats are on the list CREW released last week.
Others include Sens. Roland Burris, a Democrat from Illinois who was appointed to fill the seat left vacant by President Barack Obama, and John Ensign, a Nevada Republican who earlier this year admitted an extramarital affair with a former campaign staffer.
In a statement released by CREW last week, Melanie Sloan, executive director of the ethics watchdog, said the list outlined representatives and senators who have betrayed their constituents.
"The members of Congress profiled in CREW’s Most Corrupt report have betrayed those who voted them into office," Sloan said. "This report holds them accountable for their bad choices."