Jordan, in an interview with The Associated Press, said he accepted the appointment Thursday. He said he’s aware of concerns surrounding the commission and is approaching the position with an open mind. The governor’s office confirmed the appointment, which was expected to be made public Friday.
“I have to be objective and fair and not bring any preconceived notions to this and that is what I’m going to do,” Jordan said.
The state ethics commission has been dealing with the fallout of two lawsuits by former employees alleging retaliation for their handling of ethics complaints involving the governor. The board has requested the state auditor handle an outside investigation of the agency, including any allegations of mismanagement or misconduct by state employees.
The FBI has also been speaking with at least one current commission employee, although it’s unknown if there is any active investigation. The FBI has declined comment.
Jordan declined to address concerns raised this week by fellow Democrats who feel the state auditor is not suited to handle the outside investigation.
“Since I haven’t joined the commission yet and I really haven’t studied those issues, I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment on that,” Jordan said.
William Perry, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, said he applauded Deal’s selection.
“He’s someone whom I’ve known for many years and have always highly respected,” Perry said. “I think he’ll do more than a commendable job on the commission.”
A corporate attorney, Jordan served as associate director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs during the Clinton administration and later as Southern political director for former Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign. He worked as chief legal counsel to the Democratic caucus in the Georgia Senate and also spent a few years in the government affairs practice of McKenna, Long & Aldridge before joining the firm of Davis, Matthews & Quigley, P.C.
His uncle was Hamilton Jordan, who ran Jimmy Carter’s presidential bid and who later served as Carter’s chief of staff. Hamilton Jordan died in 2008.
After graduating from Wake Forest University, Lawton Jordan went to Washington. At the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, he started as an intern and worked his way up to associate director working in the West Wing. After graduating law school at the University of Georgia, Jordan joined Gore’s presidential campaign and ended up in Florida counting ballots during the 2000 recount.
Jordan said his experiences make him well suited to serve on the ethics commission.
“When I was at McKenna, I was a registered lobbyist so I understand to a large extent what the ethics commission does and what it is supposed to do,” Jordan said. “I also worked in the legislature, for the Senate Minority Caucus so I understand what the pressures are on political figures. I think I will bring a perspective that is useful.”
Joining the commission, Jordan will immediately confront a host of issues. In the lawsuits pending against the commission by two former employees, allegations have been made against the commission’s current executive secretary, Holly LaBerge.
Among those called to provide depositions in the civil cases was Elisabeth Murray-Obertein, staff attorney for the ethics commission who was hired by LaBerge. In recent weeks, Murray-Obertein has aired concerns about her boss, saying LaBerge had on more than one occasion said the governor “owes her” for taking care of ethics complaints that involved his campaign finance reports and personal financial disclosures.
The claims, first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, brought a scathing response from Deal who said he doesn’t know LaBerge and doesn’t owe her anything. LaBerge’s attorney, Mike Brown, has said his client treated the Deal complaints in a “fair and impartial way, as she would have treated complaints involving anyone else.”
In her deposition, LaBerge — a former lobbyist for the Georgia Public Defender’s Standards Council — said she was initially contacted by the governor’s office to see if she was interested in the executive secretary position. Deal has said it’s common for his office to recommend potential candidates for state positions, even though the agency is independent of the executive branch.
Murray-Obertein has said she initially recommended up to $70,000 in fines against Deal and thought a few of the cases needed further investigation. Eventually, Deal agreed to pay $3,350 in administrative fees to settle the complaints.
Jordan, 42, replaces Kent Alexander, a former federal prosecutor who stepped down last month.
“Mr. Jordan is an excellent selection, and I appreciate his answering the call to serve,” said ethics commission Chairman Kevin Abernethy. “He will be an excellent commissioner, and I welcome him aboard.”
Jordan said he feels confident he will remain objective.
“You can look at my record, and I’m obviously a Democrat,” Jordan said. “Neither my political leanings nor the fact that the governor has appointed me is going to affect my objectivity on the commission.”