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Gov. Deal’s ethically dubious funding for school takeover

Recently, the AJC revealed that Gov. Nathan Deal’s daughter-in-law is one of the major fundraisers behind his pro-school takeover push.

Thanks in part to the Citizens United ruling, the donations to Gov. Deal’s pet project are largely unknown (to the public anyway), and handled by a family member of the governor.

If this whole set up strikes you as ethically dubious, you are not alone.

Do you remember back in 2011, when Congressman turned Governor Nathan Deal faced an ethics investigation related to his 2010 gubernatorial campaign? Part of that investigation was into Gov. Deal’s campaign hiring Denise Deal, his daughter-in-law, to do fundraising. This is the same investigation that was ultimately quashed after multiple employees of the state ethics commission were fired, resulting in over $3 million in lawsuits against the state by former employees, payable by Georgia taxpayers.

Nonetheless, Denise Deal has continued to fund raise for the governor, for his projects and for other political leaders in Georgia. And in doing so, she’s readily utilizing the cover Citizens United provides to shield donors from public scrutiny while they donate in unlimited sums.

011815 EV Denise Deal CC1

Opportunity for All Georgia Students, Inc., the main group funding the school takeover amendment, has received more than half of their money — $1.4 million out of $2.6 million — from an organization called Georgia Leads. 

Denise Deal is the Finance Director for Georgia Leads. Denise Deal’s gets a 5 percent commission on what it fundraises for Georgia Leads, through her fundraising company, Southern Magnolia Capital LLC. Both companies share an address.

The other staffers of Georgia Leads are also heavily tied to Gov. Deal.

Tom Willis (no relation to the author), the Director of Georgia Leads, is a former Deal staffer who left his position with the governor specifically to head this project. Stefan Passantino, the CEO of Georgia leads, is a partner at the highly influential Denton’s law firm, he also runs a blog called — no joke — “Pay to Play.” How fitting.

Denise Deal and her organization(s) serve as a shield to protect donors from public disclosure. The governor is heavily invested in passing his school takeover amendment, but the public has no way of knowing who is throwing their support behind the measure.

Passatino told the AJC, Georgia Leads hired Denise Deal, “because she is an exceptionally talented and successful fundraiser and has great reach in the state,” adding, “This has nothing to do with anything but her talent and skill.” 

The issue is not her skill; certainly raising astronomical sums of money over two months is no easy feat (although being extremely well-connected certainly helps). The issue is whether or not corporate and other interests in this state are able to curry favor with the governor, by donating to his pet project, with absolutely no public transparency.

The AJC was able to dig up the sources for at least $250,000 of the donations to Georgia Leads:

“All the donors have big stakes in legislation at the state Capitol, including AT&T, the retail store lobby, McGuireWoods (one of the best-connected lobbying firms at the Statehouse), Hospital Corporation of America, beer distributors and bank lobbyists.”

The original sources for the remaining $1.15 million from Georgia Leads to Opportunity for All Georgia Students, will remain unknown. This is pay-to-play politics at it’s most brazen. Wonder if Passantino will cover it on his blog.

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