Politics & Government

State employees were solicited for contributions, says Bevin report on Beshear administration

Gov. Matt Bevin’s investigation of former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration says that state employees were illegally solicited for campaign contributions both during and after working hours.

The 18-page report, released Wednesday, says state employees were pressured to donate to the 2015 campaigns of Jack Conway, Attorney General Andy Beshear, the Kentucky Democratic Party and the Capitol Club (which raised money for Democrats from state employees in the Frankfort area) with the threat of losing their jobs.

The investigation is based on anonymous statements from 16 non-merit employees from six cabinets in the Beshear administration.

“We have reason to believe the practices described by these 16 employees were systematic and pervasive,” concludes the report, compiled by Taft Stettinius & Hollister, a law firm based in Indianapolis. “We also believe that similar findings would be obtained from additional investigation of non-merit employees in other Executive Branch cabinets.”

Former Gov. Steve Beshear called the investigation a joke and a political hatchet job.

“After almost a year — with access to 33,000 state workers, mind you — they came up with 16 secret and unnamed employees making vague allegations against six other employees, two of whom are dead and unable to defend themselves,” Beshear said in a statement. “And then the authors of this report cleverly thought that by sprinkling words like ‘systematic,’ ‘pattern,’ ‘pervasive’ and ‘endemic’ in the report they could hoodwink voters into thinking there was widespread corruption.”

Bevin awarded a two-year $500,000 contract last July to the Indianapolis law firm to look for corruption in the Beshear administration.

State law forbids specifically targeting state employees for campaign donations, unless the solicitation is part of a larger plan that includes non-state employees.

The report includes background information on two former Beshear employees who had gotten in trouble for similar issues in the past. Charles Geveden, the former deputy secretary of the Justice and Public Safety cabinet under Beshear had to pay a fine for threatening to fire non-merit employees who did not donate to former Gov. Steve Beshear’s re-election campaign.

The report also included Tim Longmeyer, the former Personnel secretary who pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges last year. The report said many of the officials who solicited donations did so under orders from Longmeyer. Longmeyer helped run Andy Beshear’s campaign for Attorney General.

In addition to Longmeyer and Geveden, the report names other officials in the Beshear administration who allegedly solicited campaign contributions from state workers.

According to the witnesses, only non-merit employees were expected to donate to the campaigns. Non-merit employees are politically appointed to managerial positions and can be be fired at any time without cause.

The report alleged that officials in the administration “frequently requested” that non-merit employees make the maximum campaign contribution of $2,000 and were encouraged to have their spouses pay the maximum as well. Some employees said that even after they had made significant contributions they continued to be asked for money until they donated the maximum amount. Others said they had to borrow money from family members to meet the donations requested.

The report does not contain any evidence that donations were made by the non-merit employees, nor does it detail how many non-merit employees in the Beshear administration donated to Conway or Beshear. It also does not contain the transcripts of interviews with the 16 witnesses.

Daniel Lowry, spokesman for the Kentucky Democratic Party, said he was a non-merit employee at the time and no one threatened him or other non-merit employees.

“Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration fired me and many other non-merits for the sole reason that we weren’t his political supporters,” Lowry said in a written statement. “I didn’t contribute to Gov. Bevin’s campaign, and knew as a non-merit that I could be let go for no cause at any time.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear, who was named as a beneficiary of the campaign solicitations in the investigation, strongly criticized the report.

“What I’ve seen is a grossly political, partisan document, which is exactly what you get when you hire a law firm from a political campaign to attack somebody,” Beshear said. “I believe based on what I’ve seen from having worked at a major law firm that the citizens of Kentucky deserve a refund of their money.”

Beshear said he would have initially preferred if the investigation was conducted by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

The Finance and Administration Cabinet, the wing of Bevin’s administration that spearheaded the report, has forwarded their findings to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. The Executive Branch Ethics Commission could not confirm or deny whether it was looking into the matter. The commission is not limited by a statute of limitations and can investigate whether a public servant violated an ethics code in previous administrations.

Beshear said he has concerns that the investigation might have tainted evidence, preventing an investigation by the ethics commission or by Kentucky State Police.

Read the report by the firm hired by the Bevin administration to investigate the Beshear administration.