Franklin County

Ethics panel dismisses complaint against Conway

A state ethics commission has dismissed a complaint that alleged Attorney General Jack Conway had a conflict of interest because he took campaign contributions from utility companies seeking rate increases.

Conway's office represents taxpayers' interests when utilities ask the Public Service Commission to approve higher rates.

Lt. Gov. Mongiardo charged that it was unethical for Conway to take campaign money from utilities when he was supposed to be challenging their rate requests, likening it to a lawyer taking cash from one side in a lawsuit while representing the other side.

Mongiardo filed the complaint with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission in early May as he and Conway battled for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination.

Conway scoffed at the allegation, saying there was no conflict because the PSC, not his office, sets utility rates.

In the end, the ethics commission did not consider the merits of the complaint.

Rather, the commission decided the complaint did not fall under its jurisdiction, according to letters it sent Mongiardo and Conway this week.

The ethics code bars state employees from taking gifts valued at more than $25 from people or businesses regulated by the state. But campaign contributions are not considered gifts, so issues concerning contributions don't fall under the commission's jurisdiction, it notified Mongiardo.

The complaint was dismissed without action, said John R. Steffen, executive director of the commission.

Mongiardo had cited four examples of what he saw as a conflict of interest involving rate requests totaling nearly $300 million for four utilities.

But Conway's office said in a statement Wednesday that work by his office to intervene in rate cases had saved ratepayers more than $150 million.

"The attorney general appreciates the work of the Ethics Commission and its review of this matter, which ultimately found the complaint filed against him by his primary opponent failed to allege a violation of the ethics code," a spokeswoman for Conway's office said in a statement.

Mongiardo had no comment on the decision Wednesday, said Kim Geveden, who was spokesman for Mongiardo in the primary.