Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is exploring whether he has the authority to investigate details surrounding the purchase of a Jefferson County house where Gov. Matt Bevin’s family now lives.
In a May 17 letter to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, Chief Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown called Bevin’s actions “a gross example of pay-to-play” and asked for an advisory opinion on whether his office can investigate Bevin without creating a conflict of interest.
“This is one of the worst cases of personal enrichment by a governor,” Beshear said in a written statement Wednesday. “News reports suggest he is personally enriching himself and his friends, getting a Louisville mansion at half the price from a state contractor, donor and political appointee, and giving his best friend a $250,000 job. Because the governor refuses to be direct and honest, someone must investigate.”
Beshear first mentioned the possibility of investigating Bevin in an interview Tuesday with WHAS radio host Terry Meiners. In years past, the ethics commission “put out some opinions that have at least raised some questions with me about what an appropriate agency to look into that would be,” Beshear told Meiners. “I’ve asked for clarification there.”
The ethics commission has previously issued two rulings that potentially could be applied to the situation. The first, issued in 2003, found that investigation of a political opponent would create a conflict of interest for the attorney general. A later ruling, in 2006, found that there was no conflict of interest if the attorney general is involved in an investigation of the governor, unless the attorney general becomes a gubernatorial candidate.
“The current governor has indicated that he is a likely candidate for re-election in 2019,” Brown wrote in his May 17 letter. “While General Beshear has made no public statements of his intent, the current governor has indicated that he believes General Beshear will run against him and certainly views him as a political rival.”
The ethics commission won’t consider Beshear’s request until its next meeting on July 17, said Kathryn Gabhart, executive director of the commission.
Last month, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported that Bevin’s family had moved into a house recently purchased by Anchorage Place LLC. State business registration documents do not say who owns Anchorage Place LLC and Bevin has refused to identify the owner.
The house was sold at what appears to be a discounted price by a company called The Anchorage LLC, which is owned by Louisville businessman Neil Ramsey. Ramsey has donated to Bevin’s political campaigns and was appointed by Bevin to the board of the Kentucky Retirement Systems.
Ramsey also is a board member of eBridge, a Louisville company that was awarded a contract under former Gov. Steve Beshear to help state government procure supplies. Ramsey owns at least 5 percent of the company or a $10,000 share in the company, according to a financial disclosure statement he filed with the state.
“The governor was not aware of the existence of eBridge or this contract” until the Herald-Leader asked about it earlier this month, said Amanda Stamper, a spokeswoman for Bevin, in a statement provided to the newspaper on May 10. “It was recently renewed again as a standard practice.”
Ramsey told the Courier-Journal that he does not know who owns Anchorage Place LLC, though he later told WAVE-TV in Louisville that he negotiated the sale directly with Bevin. State government also began adding security improvements to the house months before it was sold, according to the Courier-Journal.
Bevin has said there was nothing inappropriate about the sale of the house and that it did not create any conflict of interest.
“It’s truly foolish the way the uninformed people who consider themselves reporters talk about this,” Bevin told Meiners before the Kentucky Derby. “They try to create some perception of misdeeds on the part of people when it is the exact opposite, the people who are there are cleaning up the mess.”
Ramsey has said the house was sold at a fair price and that the property is overvalued by the Jefferson County PVA.
Beshear, though, said there’s a lot of “smoke” around the purchase of the house.
“A governor has an obligation to be straight with the citizens of the commonwealth, and this is one where the governor could clear it all up just by being direct, just by coming out and talking about this and not laughing it off, not telling the people of the commonwealth that they shouldn’t know about his personal transactions with political employees,” Beshear said to Meiners.
Richard Beliles, chairman of the liberal-leaning watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky, said Bevin should be more transparent about his business dealings.
“I don’t understand why he’s been so closed on explaining it if there’s nothing wrong with it,” Beliles said.
Beshear also expressed concern that the Bevin administration has hired two people in recent weeks who will be making about $250,000 annually. In particular, he cited the hiring of Vivek Sarin, a Shelbyville businessman who is a personal friend of Bevin, to improve the state’s workforce development strategies.
“This may be an amazing guy,” Beshear said, “but the hiring creates significant questions.”
Reporter Jack Brammer contributed to this story.