Politics & Government

State ethics panel dismisses complaints against Bevin over Anchorage home

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On July 17, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission will consider complaints alleging that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin broke ethics laws when he bought a house from a friend at a price that appeared to be below market value.
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On July 17, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission will consider complaints alleging that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin broke ethics laws when he bought a house from a friend at a price that appeared to be below market value.

Two complaints filed against Gov. Matt Bevin over his purchase of a home through a friend and political donor were unanimously dismissed Wednesday by a state ethics panel.

The complaints alleged that Bevin used his public office for personal gain when he bought a home in Anchorage from Neil Ramsey, a Bevin appointee to the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees, for well below its assessed value.

The ethics commission determined that the governor’s conduct didn’t violate the ethics code as alleged, according to Katie Gabhart, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. It was Bevin’s second victory this week with the panel, which contains a majority of his appointees.

Because Ramsey isn’t a lobbyist, isn’t doing business or planning to do business with the office of the governor, isn’t involved in litigation with the office of the governor, isn’t applying for grants with the office of the governor and isn’t regulated by the office of the governor — even if Bevin did buy the house at a discounted price — it would not be prohibited, according to state ethics code.

“Nothing in the state ethics code prohibits two public servants from engaging in a financial transaction or giving each other gifts,” said the letter, written by Gabhart.

However, because Ramsey is a member of the KRS Board of Trustees, and because a financial transaction between Ramsey and Bevin took place, the commission recommended that Bevin should delegate to the lieutenant governor the authority to reappoint Ramsey.

“We’re pleased the ethics commission has recognized these as the political stunts they are,” said Tres Watson, spokesman for the Kentucky Republican Party. “Maybe now we can move forward and focus on the work Governor Bevin and Republicans in the General Assembly are doing to put Kentuckians back to work.”

Bevin’s office has not responded to a request for comment.

The complaints — filed by state Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville and Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky — came after Bevin a historic house and 10 acres of land in the Louisville suburb for $1.6 million — well below Jefferson County’s assessment of the house and 19 acres for $2.97 million.

“I feel a little better after reading the letters,” Beliles said, after the Herald-Leader provided him with copies of the decision. “At least there’s still constraints on the governor. But it still looks bad. That much benefit for the governor does not improve the confidence of the general public in their state government.”

Bevin questioned Beliles’ independence in a May news conference, saying Attorney General Andy Beshear’s pledge to donate to Common Cause tainted campaign contributions he received from Tim Longmeyer, the former deputy attorney general who pleaded guilty to bribes that he took as secretary of the Personnel Cabinet under former Gov. Steve Beshear.

Beliles said that he has met Beshear only once, in a hallway at the Capitol, and that he filed the complaint on behalf of himself, not Common Cause.

Owens could not be reached for comment.

Earlier in the week, the same commission ruled that unless Beshear declared that he would not for governor in 2019, he would violate state ethics code if he investigated the details of Bevin’s purchase.

Bevin’s attorney, Mark Sommer, also challenged the assessed value of the home in front of the Jefferson County appeals assessment board. An appraiser hired by Sommer said the house and 10 acres of land were worth $1.39 million — less than what Bevin paid Ramsey for the property.

The assessment appeals board for Jefferson County will decide in August whether it supports Jefferson County’s original assessment or Bevin’s appraisers assessment.

On Twitter on Friday, Beshear expressed disappointment in the ethics commissions rulings.

“This week, Bevin’s ethics commission rules a state contractor can give the governor a house and the attorney general cannot investigate,” the tweet said. “Your government should serve you, not enrich him. Every Kentuckian should be outraged.”

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics

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