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By Eric Stirgus June 22, 2011

Deal flies into trouble with Delta gift

One of Nathan Deal"s first acts as governor upon taking office earlier this year was to sign an executive order banning gifts greater than $25 to himself and his staff.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article Sunday that raised questions concerning Delta Air Lines" recent "in-kind contributions” of an upgraded travel status to the governor and his wife after Deal agreed to a $30 million tax break for the airline, which is one of the state"s largest employers.

"This was obviously a thank you for signing that (tax) bill,” Common Cause Georgia executive director William Perry told the AJC"s James Salzer.

The governor"s office strongly denied the allegation. State officials say the tax break is necessary because of Delta"s importance to Georgia"s economy. We wondered if the acceptance of the upgraded travel status for the Deals, valued by Delta at nearly $8,000, was a broken campaign promise?

PolitiFact Georgia is tracking more than 30 campaign promises made by Deal. Most of them have not yet been rated, but will be monitored by us during the course of his term. Three were rated as "Promise Kept,” six as "In The Works” and two as "Stalled.”

Deal communications director Brian Robinson told the AJC that the travel upgrade was a gift to the state. Robinson maintained that position to us in an e-mail.

"This is part of Delta"s partnership as a Georgia corporate citizen to assist with the governor"s economic development efforts to bring jobs and prosperity to a state we all call home,” Robinson wrote. "It was disclosed in the spirit of full transparency, but it is not a personal gift. It is a gift to the state of Georgia and the Delta status will be used only for state business, such as the economic development trip to the U.K. and Germany last month.”

We also asked about the Delta upgrade for Mrs. Deal.

"As the first lady of Georgia, Mrs. Deal sometimes accompanies the governor on official travel, as she did in May,” Robinson said. "Like the governor, she will not use the Delta status for personal travel.”

The upgraded status includes perks such as waiving baggage fees, bonus miles on Delta flights and complimentary upgrades to first class.

The AJC noted that Delta gave at least 10 politicians or their campaigns upgrades, special status and/or Sky Club memberships worth about $20,000 last year, records show. Those politicians ranged from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston to the Delta tax exemption sponsor Jay Roberts.Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also received a similar Delta perk, the AJC has previously reported.

Delta recorded its in-kind contributions to "Nathan Deal Governor” and "Sandra Deal spouse of Governor Deal.”

Deal"s office stresses that it will use the upgraded Delta status for business travel. However, there is a possibility that it can be used for personal use since it was written on the lobbyist reports in the names of the Deals and not the state of Georgia.

When Deal first signed his no-gift policy earlier this year, we rated it a "Promise Kept.”

But with the recent Delta developments, Deal appears to be violating that policy. We have changed our ruling to "Promise Broken.”

Editor"s Note: The Truth-O-Meter graphic was accidentally dropped on Tuesday"s item in the print edition of the newspaper. The graphic appeared in the online version of PolitiFact Georgia.

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By Eric Stirgus January 11, 2011

Deal bans gifts for himself, staff

Ethics was a major topic of debate during Georgia"s 2010 race for governor.

  The conversation was not kind to Republican candidate Nathan Deal, who eventually won the race and was sworn in as governor Monday.

  Deal, a former congressman who represented portions of North Georgia, was the subject of a congressional ethics investigation in early 2010 on allegations that he pressured state officials to retain a contract for his auto salvage business. The investigation ended when Deal resigned from Congress to focus on his run for governor. But the scrutiny didn"t.

  Deal, during the campaign, pledged he would not allow himself or his staff to accept gifts.

  "As governor, I will implement a total gift ban for executive branch employees to send a strong signal to Georgians that we will not be subject to undue influence," he said.

  Still, Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Roy Barnes tried to hammer Deal on ethics. Barnes proposed prohibiting any executive branch employee from meeting privately with a state or federal elected official about personal business.

  Barnes said his plan was not inspired by Deal, but in a quip, he said "certainly Deal is a good example of why we need the law.”

  The criticism didn"t deter most voters. Deal trounced Barnes in the election.

  On Monday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that one of Deal"s first executive orders was to ban gifts to his staff and executive agency heads. Deal signed a policy re-enacting rules put in place in 2003 by his immediate predecessor, Sonny Perdue. The policy prohibits any conflicts of interest by state officials in the governor"s office. Gifts greater than $25 must be returned or donated to a charitable organization.

  The penalties for violating the policy include getting fired.

  The order fulfills what Deal said on the campaign trail. And for that, we rate Deal"s executive order as a Promise Kept.

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