Gov. Nathan Deal Files Against Ethics Watchdog George Anderson
Gov. Nathan Deal has filed for attorney's fees regarding an ethics violation brought against him by George Anderson. Meanwhile, a local nonprofit is trying to change the law regarding ethics complaints.
On Sept. 20, Governor Nathan Deal filed for attorney's fees against George Anderson, Executive Director of Ethics in Government Group, claiming that Anderson "filed unsubstantiated, as well as, frivolous accusations concerning payments to Southern Magnolia LLC, alleging kickbacks to Respondent, untrue allegations of personal profit from campaign funds, as well as, allegations regarding good friend and appointee Patrick Millsaps to the State Ethics Commission."
Anderson claims that he is being attacked with "abuse litigation."
"I am being attacked against my Constitutional rights to petition the government for a redress of grievances under the United States Constitution under Amendment I Article I," he said in an email to Snellville Patch.
Anderson asserted that Gov. Deal violated the public trust and used his power and resources for personal or financial benefit. He also claimed that "Governor Deal used his influence to dismantle the Commission's work force and interfered with the investigation into Deal's unethical actions from his campaign for governor."
He claimed that Gov. Deal is calling his ethics complaint "frivolous" in order to intimidate citizens who are thinking about filing a complaint in the future.
Local businessman and concerned Gwinnett County resident Kenneth Stepp believes the complaint and others like it are indeed frivolous, and take up taxpayer money and time in the courts. He has launched a nonprofit called Gwinnett Ethics in response to what he sees as a series of frivolous ethics complaints by Ethics in Government Director George Anderson and others like him.
Stepp's nonprofit is pursuing a change in law that would require an "under oath" amendment. The proposed amendment would require those who file ethics complaints to divulge who, if anyone, is paying them.
"You put yourself at risk," he explained. "You’re either going to tell the truth or you will commit perjury."
Stepp believes that the proposed amendment to the law would add credibility to legitimate watchdog organizations, while shutting down those which are hired to cast doubt on a political opponent's character.
According to Stepp's Gwinnett Ethics website:
"These self-proclaimed “watchdogs” are doing nothing more than using ethics as a platform for political attacks. In so doing, they needlessly consume time and money, and frequently hurt innocent people.
While the concept of an “ethics watchdog” is a noble one, some watchdogs are anything but. They are frequently more ethically challenged than the people they claim to be watching, and they file ethics complaints not because they have uncovered violations, but because they’re paid to do so by people who are trying to discredit a political opponent."
When filing a complaint, Stepp believes the filer should swear under oath that "no monies, favors, or enticements were received, or will be received by them or their interests, as compensation for filing a complaint," or otherwise disclose who is paying them to file a complaint (including "donations").
Stepp believes that these complaints corrupt the election process.
Anderson has stated that no one is paying him to file these complaints. He filed an ethics complaint against Snellville councilman Tom Witts earlier this year, claiming that Witts violated his oath of office because he owed back taxes.
City attorney Tony Powell has said the complaint has no merit, and the city has been pursuing a declatory judgment against Anderson. Former and current councilmembers have stood behind Witts, claiming that Anderson is using the ethics complaint as a platform for political speech.
Witts himself explained that he does owe the tax, but is paying it back and never hid that fact.
He said in a previous interview with Snellville Patch that he owes for taking a disbursement of 401K funds in 2007 after his wife was laid off. He said the money "I borrowed from myself" helped prevent him from laying off employees and kept his business (Georgia Property Restoration) afloat.
"[Despite Anderson's charges] I'd still make that decision. I'd still do it. I'd still take care of the families [of his employees]. I'd still take care of my family," said Witts, who said he has disclosed his debt in an open city council meeting. "I have nothing to hide."
According to Stepp, frivolous ethics complaints are not only damaging to Gwinnett County, they’re "hurting virtually every municipal and county government in the state of Georgia."