Barnes, Deal to spar in Albany debate

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Two political heavyweights jockeying for votes to become Georgia's next governor have confirmed they will participate in a televised debate at local NBC affiliate WALB-TV's studios.

The Oct. 19 debate is sponsored by Raycom, WALB's parent company.

Campaign officials from the camps of both former Congressman Nathan Deal and former Gov. Roy Barnes said the candidates have agreed to participate in the event.

There is no word if the two plan to participate in a public debate in Albany before the Nov. 2 election.

Deal, who was the focus of a Congressional ethics probe because of questionable dealings involving his auto salvage business, made cover pages for 28 years worth of tax returns available to the public Friday.

The cover pages show Deal and his wife, Sandra, earned $229,123 in 2009. They paid $36,087 in taxes for that year and received a refund of $10,688.

Tax returns have emerged as an issue as the race to become Georgia's next governor has heated up.

Barnes has been pressuring the former congressman to take the wraps off his taxes for several weeks. Barnes -- who in May made public 25 years of his tax returns -- has hammered Deal with television ads, suggesting Deal's refusal to let the public look at his taxes meant he had something to hide.

"I'm not going to let Mr. Barnes dictate how I run my campaign," Deal fired back at a campaign forum over the weekend.

The Barnes campaign argued on Thursday that Deal was still not providing a full look at his finances and was making "a mockery of transparency."

"By releasing only the cover pages of his returns, Rep. Deal is hiding more than he's disclosed," Barnes spokesman Emil Runge said.

Deal faced questions about his taxes as part of a congressional ethics probe.

A report released earlier this year by the Office of Congressional Ethics alleged Deal reported $75,000 in wages from his Gainesville auto salvage company on his 2008 tax return, while reporting the same amount as dividend income on his financial disclosure filed with the U.S. House.

If the amount had been reported as wages on his congressional disclosure, Deal would have been in violation of a congressional cap on outside income. The cap in 2008 was $25,830 beyond a representative's annual salary of $174,000.

But he declined to make public filings for his Gainesville auto salvage business Friday, and tax "schedules" -- that would provide more details on things like capital gains and rental income -- were not included in the documents the Deal campaign posted online Thursday night.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson declined to explain why.

Deal resigned from Congress in March before the Office of Congressional Ethics issued its findings and before the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct decided whether to take up the matter. Deal was never fined or charged. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Classifying the money as earned income was a mistake made by Deal's accountants on the tax forms, Robinson said. He said the mistake covered returns filed for 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The tax forms posted online for those years on Thursday are the amended returns, Robinson said. The original returns were not provided.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.