State Republican leaders have launched their third investigation of either the former Democratic administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, or his son, Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is running for governor next year.
House and Senate GOP leaders announced Monday that they are asking former members and associates of Gov. Beshear’s administration to testify before the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee about a controversial contract to wire all of Kentucky for high-speed broadband access.
Earlier this month, the Senate Republican Caucus announced a state-funded review by the committee of the various contracting procedures in the attorney general’s office.
In July, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration renewed for up to $500,000 for a two-year contract with an Indianapolis law firm to search for corruption in former Gov. Beshear’s administration. The initial contract cost $500,000.
Brad Bowman, spokesman for Andy Beshear’s campaign for governor, said of the investigations, “At a time when Gov. Bevin and Republican leadership passed the sewer pension bill claiming the state is broke, they are willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to attack political enemies.”
Bowman was referring to the controversial bill Bevin signed into law earlier to overhaul Kentucky’s ailing public pension systems. Beshear is challenging the law in court and it is pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Tres Watson, a spokesman for the Kentucky Republican Party, said, “Republicans are dedicated to cleaning up the waste, fraud and abuse that has plagued Frankfort for decades. These investigations aren’t about any one person. They’re about identifying corruption so it can be prevented from ever being repeated.”
House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, said in a statement that the legislature’s investigations committee should review the signing of the contract in Gov. Beshear’s administration to build the so-called Kentucky Wired Project.
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“This is a $400 million deal in a contract that, by all accounts, is unlike any other contract ever signed by the Commonwealth; virtually no liability on the contractor, and all the liability on Kentucky taxpayers,” said Osborne, who sponsored a resolution in this year’s legislative session calling for the investigation.
The Kentucky Wired project, a public-private partnership, is running years behind schedule with tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns. Created by Gov. Beshear and Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers in 2015, Kentucky Wired was supposed to have delivered high-speed internet access to all 120 counties by this year. An audit of the project by Republican state Auditor Mike Harmon is pending.
The co-chair of the investigations committee, Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, said it is important for Kentuckians to know why this contract was signed.
“Avoiding a future situation like this is a top priority,” he said.
Six people involved in the contract have been invited to testify next month. The contract was signed by former Finance Secrertary Lori Flanery. Other Beshear administration officials involved in the contract include former budget director Mary Lassiter, and former deputy budget director John Hicks. Northern Kentucky attorney Patrick Hughes negotiated the contract on behalf of Macquarie Capital. James Baller and Marcus Lemons negotiated the contract on behalf of the Beshear administration as outside legal counsel.
Most of Kentucky Wired’s initial $324 million cost was fronted by private investors led by Australian firm Macquarle Capital.
The legislative committee’s review of Attorney General Beshear’s contracting procedures comes after Beshear last year awarded a contract to four private law firms to help him sue pharmaceutical companies in reaction to the state’s opioid epidemic. The Bevin administration tried to block the contract, but a state judge ruled he couldn’t.
Beshear has since filed seven opioid-related lawsuits. Republican Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, has said the legislative review is not related to Beshear’s campaign for governor.