Beshear conflicts rule him out of U of L investigation

Attorney General Andy Beshear
Attorney General Andy Beshear Herald-Leader file photo

Despite a recent Herald-Leader editorial, the Republican Party of Kentucky will continue to push for Attorney General Andy Beshear’s recusal from the University of Louisville investigation due to conflicts of interest.

The Herald-Leader dismissed our call, saying the investigation was too large and complex for a special prosecutor to handle; however, that’s exactly why it’s so important he recuse himself.

The investigation is too big and too important to the long-term health of U of L to ignore the evidence and just take Beshear’s word that he has no conflict, especially considering his history of conflicts and steadfast refusal to give the public assurances he has done everything he can to avoid them.

Candidate Beshear’s 2014 and 2015 financial disclosure forms show he provided U of L with legal advice. Also, as a member of U of L’s Board of Overseers, he reported he’d been directly compensated by the university with financial benefits in the form of over $200 worth of football tickets (disclosure forms request any items valued over $200, not the total value of those items). This is in addition to his former law firm having represented the U of L Board of Trustees, foundation and hospital.

According to the U of L Foundation audit, which prompted Beshear’s investigation, his former law firm, Stites & Harbison, was paid nearly $2 million in “unbudgeted legal expenses” by the foundation. The Kentucky Health Policy Institute has reported comments by a former U of L Board of Trustees and foundation board chairman that some of those funds were likely used to fund a suit in which Beshear represented the hospital. All of this, in the eyes of any reasonable person, represents at least the appearance of impropriety.

This investigation is too big and the potential impact on the state and U of L is too broad to put the case at risk by ignoring these conflicts. In order to maintain the integrity and public trust in the investigation and avoid giving anyone who may potentially be convicted grounds for appeal, the attorney general must recuse himself and appoint a special prosecutor.

While the Herald-Leader objected to a special prosecutor citing the costs and man hours likely to be involved as a drain on the budget and that person’s current staff, the only person in the AG’s office who has a conflict is Beshear himself. We recommend he appoint a special prosecutor and throw the full weight and power of his own staff behind the appointee to manage the investigation.

This is not about Andy Beshear as an individual. I have known him for several years and personally like him. This is also not about Matt Bevin. He has his own communications staff; we at Republican Party of Kentucky do not work for him. This is about holding elected officials accountable when the appearance of impropriety exists.

In 2013, Beshear was advised by AG Jack Conway to submit all his potential conflicts to the Kentucky Bar Association ethics hotline in order to receive a letter that would provide some ‘safe harbor’ from charges of conflict of interest.

We have repeatedly asked Beshear if he followed Conway’s advice and, if so, will he release the letter he received from the KBA. He has consistently refused to address whether he took such action and instead suggested that we just trust him that he has no conflict. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

I hope the attorney general will do the right thing for the University of Louisville and for Kentucky taxpayers and step aside in this investigation so that justice can be served should criminal wrongdoing be found.

Tres Watson is communications director for the Republican Party of Kentucky.

At issue: July 21 editorial: “Beshear right to investigation foundation”