Politics & Government

Ethics panel dismisses complaint against Mongiardo

FRANKFORT - The Legislative Ethics Commission yesterday dismissed an ethics violation complaint filed against state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, D-Hazard, by the Kentucky Republican Party.

The commission had found "probable cause" in December to further investigate allegations that Mongiardo, the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Beshear, violated the law by associating himself with an independent fund-raising committee.

In a four-page dismissal order, commission Chairman George Troutman chastised Mongiardo for failing to research the state's ethics laws, but said "the evidence does not establish by clear and convincing proof that Senator Mongiardo intended to, or did, use his official position to secure or create privileges or advantages for himself or others by organizing, forming or registering a permanent committee."

Mongiardo's attorney, Jeff Morgan of Hazard, released the opinion to the media last night.

In a statement, Mongiardo said: "I respect the professional manner in which the commission and its staff conducted their inquiry and am pleased that I can now focus once again on helping to address the challenges confronting our Commonwealth."

The commission found that Mongiardo willingly agreed to serve as an adviser for the Democratic Activist Political Action Committee, even going so far as to receive DANPAC business cards that included his name.

"The cards were never used by the senator and were thrown away by him," according to the order.

State legislative ethics laws forbid lawmakers from forming "a permanent committee" other than their own election campaign fund panels. Had the commission found that Mongiardo knowingly violated the law, he could have been prosecuted for violation of a Class D felony.

Mongiardo cut all ties with the group in June 2006, about 10 weeks after its formation, following a newspaper story about his involvement in the group.

"As soon as anybody mentioned there might be a problem, he disassociated himself completely, and that was about two months before the complaint was filed," Morgan said.

Republican Party Executive Director Michael Clingaman declined to comment on the dismissal last night, saying he hadn't yet reviewed it.

DANPAC, chaired by Ryen Greer of South Carolina, was formed to help Democratic candidates across the nation. State reports show the group brought in $2,750 in 2006.

Although Mongiardo's name has been cleared, the commission's order did question the soundness of his decision to associate with a fund-raising committee without first researching the law.

"Although aware that his involvement with DANPAC might raise legal problems, he apparently made no effort to explore exactly what those might be with any appropriate agency," said the order. "Instead he relied, at least initially, on the advice of someone whose knowledge of Kentucky election law appears to have been somewhat short of adequate.

"Looking into the law before leaping into involvement of any kind with a permanent committee would have been a better course to follow and likely would have rendered this proceeding unnecessary as well as sparing the Senator unwanted publicity," the order said.