Gov. Matt Bevin answered questions from the media about his new house last week, but his responses weren’t enough to satisfy Attorney General Andy Beshear.
“This is pretty simple: a governor can’t buy a mansion from a state contractor for half off and he can’t create a brand new $250,000 job for his best friend,” Beshear said Tuesday. “Those are the types of things that aren’t Democrat or Republican, they’re just right or wrong. So there is and continues to be a lot of smoke here.”
Beshear asked the Executive Branch Ethics Commission earlier this month for an advisory opinion on whether he can investigate Bevin’s purchase of a Jefferson County home in March for well under its appraised value from Neil Ramsey, a political donor and Bevin-appointee to the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees.
The Executive Branch Ethics Commission has not yet responded to Beshear’s request, which sought clarification about a state ethics rule that says it is a conflict of interest for the attorney general to investigate a political opponent.
Beshear also has expressed concern that the Bevin administration recently hired Vivek Sarin, a Shelbyville businessman who is a personal friend of Bevin, to improve the state’s workforce development strategies. Sarin is being paid $250,000 a year.
Bevin told WDRB-TV Friday that he owns the limited liability company that bought the property where his family now lives, but he contends the house and a surrounding 10-acre lot in Anchorage have been overvalued by the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator.
“It is arguably not even worth what was paid for it, let alone what it’s being assessed at,” Bevin said.
Bevin’s comments on Friday came hours after government ethics watchdog Richard Beliles filed a complaint against Bevin with the ethics commission, accusing Bevin of using his public office for personal gain when he bought the home at a price well below its assessed value.
Last month, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported that Bevin’s family had moved into a house bought by Anchorage Place LLC in March. State business documents don’t say who owns Anchorage Place LLC, and the governor had refused to identify himself as the owner until Friday.
The house and land were bought for $1.6 million but the PVA has said the house alone is worth $2.1 million. The land was part of a 19-acre parcel the PVA has said is worth $800,000.
Beshear raised concerns Tuesday about the independence of the ethics commission, whose members are appointed by the governor.
“I worry that the ethics commission itself might not be at a place to look at some of these issues,” Beshear said. “Specifically, I have concerns that the ethics commission’s authority has been severely diluted or perhaps co-opted by the governor himself.”
The five-member ethics panel includes three appointees by former Gov. Steve Beshear, who is Andy Beshear’s father, and two by Bevin. However, the term of one Beshear appointee expires on July 14, three days before the commission’s next meeting.
Kathryn Gabhart, the executive director of the ethics commission, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. She has previously said the commission won’t consider Beshear’s request for an advisory opinion until its July meeting.
Bevin has derided those asking questions about the purchase of his house and has criticized reporters for “breathlessly” covering the issue, going so far as to call Courier-Journal reporter Tom Loftus a “#peepingtom” and “a sick man” on Twitter. Bevin alleged, without offering any proof, that Loftus had been “sneaking around my home and property” and “was removed by state police.”
Courier-Journal Executive Editor Joel Christopher rejected Bevin’s claims, calling them “untruthful and absurd.” Loftus reported in March that he had visited the residence and intended to knock on the front door when he was met by a state police trooper who declined to say who lived in the house and said it was private property.
Beshear said Bevin’s accusation bordered on libel.
“I think those types of comments are beneath the Office of Governor,” Beshear said. “Those comments suggest criminal activity which they teach you in law school is libel if not libel per se. I think we all have a duty as public officials to be far more responsible than that.”