Attorney General Andy Beshear wants the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, not the secretary of the state Finance and Administration Cabinet, to investigate Gov. Matt Bevin’s claims that state workers might have been “coerced” into donating to Democratic candidates under former Gov. Steve Beshear.
Andy Beshear also is asking the commission to investigate whether the Bevin administration, which took office in December, used political contribution histories as grounds to fire non-merit, or politically appointed, state employees. Political appointees generally serve at the pleasure of the governor and may be fired without cause.
In a letter Friday to the commission, Andy Beshear, a Democrat and the son of Steve Beshear, said the finance secretary lacks jurisdiction to investigate the Republican governor’s claims because he reports directly to the governor.
“As an independent body, the commission is shielded from the normal pressures of state government and the influence of any state official, even the governor,” Andy Beshear said.
The commission’s five members were appointed by Steve Beshear from lists of names submitted by the governor, auditor and attorney general. Members serve staggered terms for four years. At least two of the five members — vice chairman William G. Francis of Lexington and Richard L. Masters of Louisville — have contributed to the campaigns of Steve or Andy Beshear, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. The other three members — chairman W. David Denton of Paducah, Martin Johnstone of Louisville and Sheila Isaac of Lexington — have contributed to Democratic candidates.
Andy Beshear said it was crucial that the commission act quickly because “state employees are currently facing a situation where they may feel compelled to claim coercion where it did not exist.”
“Current non-merit employees know that the governor can fire them at any time and that he greatly dislikes the previous governor, his opponent in the last election (Jack Conway) and even the attorney general,” Beshear wrote. “As such, non-merit employees, who willingly made contributions, may feel they have to claim coercion to keep their jobs and support their families.”
Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said the governor had no plans to stop his investigation of Steve Beshear’s administration.
“We are glad that the attorney general agrees there is a need for an investigation into his father’s administration,” Ditto said, but “by asking the ethics commission to take over the investigation, we hope that the attorney general is not attempting to stand in the way of transparency and justice.”
She said Bevin welcomed a “parallel investigation” by the commission, but “the allegations of corruption and coercion require an independent inquiry because they expand far beyond the scope of the ethics commission’s jurisdiction and capacity.”
“There are serious matters of state law and procurement code that the ethics commission is not authorized to investigate,” she said.
Ditto said more employees “have come forward saying that they were coerced into donating to Democratic causes” since Bevin raised his concerns last week.
Katie Gabhart, executive director of the ethics commission, acknowledged Monday that she received Beshear’s letter but said she could not confirm or deny any investigation by the commission.
She said the full commission does not meet again until July 18.
Gabhart said in response to questions that the commission has investigated previous claims of coerced contributions from state workers who are protected by the merit system from dismissal without cause, but she didn’t think the agency had ever looked at firings of non-merit employees.
She said she would respond to Beshear’s letter in the next few days.
Bevin outlined “questionable activities” of Steve Beshear’s administration last week during a Capitol news conference. He said he would direct Finance and Administration Secretary William Landrum to hire investigators to conduct a wide-ranging inquiry of actions taken by Beshear administration officials. He also said the FBI might look into some of the matters.
In the state Personnel Cabinet, Bevin said, it appeared that rank-and-file workers were coerced into making political contributions to Democratic causes and candidates while Tim Longmeyer was the state personnel secretary. Longmeyer pleaded guilty last week in a federal bribery case.
Bevin called on Attorney General Beshear to return thousands of dollars of questionable contributions involving Longmeyer.
The Republican governor also questioned a $3 million no-bid contract that the Beshear administration awarded for fraud-detection services on its last day in office, the procurement process for an information technology system that would run the state Medicaid program, and potential financial irregularities in the workers’ compensation branch of the state Personnel Cabinet.
A few days later, Bevin announced the appointment of Kenneth F. Bohac as the Finance Cabinet’s inspector general, effective May 2. Bohac has a 21-year history with the U.S. Marshals Service, most recently as U.S. Marshal for the central district of Illinois.