State GOP calls on Beshear to step aside from investigation of U of L Foundation

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear speaks on Monday April 11, 2016 in Frankfort, Ky.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear speaks on Monday April 11, 2016 in Frankfort, Ky.

The Republican Party of Kentucky called on Attorney General Andy Beshear Friday to name a special investigator to take over his investigation of the University of Louisville Foundation, claiming Beshear has ignored multiple conflicts of interest.

“Attorney General Beshear continues to show remarkably bad judgment and an absolute inability to recognize clear-cut conflicts of interest,” state Republican communications director Tres Watson said in a news release.

The Courier-Journal reported Thursday that U of L disclosed Beshear’s investigation of the university’s foundation and that the university is cooperating.

Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian dismissed the GOP’s request as a political attack.

“Another day, another attack by the Bevin administration/RPK for this office doing its job,” Sebastian said. “The office has not seen anything yet that would merit recusal but it is always willing to re-evaluate if that changes. The general believes in doing his job.”

The GOP statement said Beshear’s former law firm, Stites and Harbison, represented the U of L Foundation and that Beshear has been “unwilling to rule out whether or not he had performed work for the foundation before becoming attorney general.”

Beshear, a Democrat, told reporters June 12 in Louisville that he never provided legal work for the foundation, Sebastian said.

The GOP also said the University of Louisville board that was in place during the time period being investigated was appointed by Beshear’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear. Those same board members donated at least $750,000 to Steve and Andy Beshear’s political causes, according to a Courier-Journal report from 2015, Watson said.

“Whether or not there is an actual conflict, the attorney general must recognize there is an obvious appearance of impropriety,” Watson said. “There are clearly issues at the University of Louisville Foundation that need to be explored. However, if the attorney general wants the people of Kentucky to have any confidence in the investigation, he needs to appoint a special investigator. That is the only way to give the public assurance that it will be a fair and thorough inquiry.”

On Thursday, the university released a June 30 letter from Beshear’s office requesting copies of emails between ousted former president James Ramsey, former foundation secretary Kathleen Smith and chief financial officer Jason Tomlinson, the Courier-Journal reported.

Beshear’s department of criminal investigations also asked for documents dealing with their pay and whether that was legal, and a $38 million loan for the foundation’s real estate unit.

The nonprofit foundation is U of L’s investment arm. A state audit last month scrutinized the foundation’s compensation of U of L administrators, flawed real estate investments and withdrawal of millions of dollars from the endowment meant to support the university.

Jack Brammer: 502-227-1198, @BGPolitics