Ex-Gov. Beshear accuses Gov. Bevin of shaking down employees, businesses week after administration launches own inquiry

04/27/2016 06:05 PM

FRANKFORT — About a week after Gov. Matt Bevin announced an internal investigations into possible abuses by members of his predecessor’s administration, former Gov. Steve Beshear aired on Wednesday allegations that Bevin has strong-armed non-merit employees and entities that conduct business with the state to help retire a $4.1 million personal campaign debt.

Beshear also accused the first-year governor of threatening to pull the plug on road projects in certain legislative districts as he tried to coax Democrats in the legislature to join the Republican Party.

Wednesday’s 45-minute press conference at the Capital Plaza Hotel is the latest development in an already sour relationship between Bevin and the Beshears, including Attorney General Andy Beshear.

Bevin said state employees were coerced to donate to the younger Beshear’s campaign for attorney general and that his administration questioned the award of some no-bid contracts during an April 19 news conference at the Capitol.

Ex-Gov. Steve Beshear called the accusations against his administration “nothing more than an attempt to distract the public’s attention from the disaster he made of Benefind, from his plan to strip health insurance from vulnerable Kentuckians and from his explicable and unnecessary attempts to cut investments in our schools.”

He denied any knowledge of wrongdoing within his administration as alleged by Bevin, whose administration hired former U.S. Marshal Ken Bohac as inspector general of the Finance and Administration Cabinet days after announcing its investigation, which will be handled by a private law firm.

“Some of my friends have counseled me, ‘Just ignore these attacks,’ but it’s clear that he has declared war on the Beshear family and the Beshear administration,” Beshear said. “It’s also clear that apparently he has no intention of stopping. Well, he has bullied the legislature, he has bullied our universities, he has bullied you in the media, and he has bullied organizations that rely on state funding, but he’s not going to get away with bullying me.”

Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto referenced former Personnel Cabinet Secretary Tim Longmeyer’s decision to plead guilty to federal bribery charges April 19 in response, saying Beshear “is merely trying to protect what is left of his legacy.”

“Every wild, baseless accusation he has attempted to levy is not corroborated by any facts whatsoever,” Ditto said in a statement.

“Governor Bevin is focused on the job the people of Kentucky elected him to do, which is to restore fiscal responsibility and create economic opportunity. He will let the investigation take its course and has said all he intends to say about this matter.”

Beshear offered no concrete evidence but said he’s been told that the Bevin administration has pressured non-merit employees, who can be hired or fired at will, and entities looking to conduct business with the state into donating to his gubernatorial campaign account to help retire a $4.1 million personal debt.

Beshear, like his son, called on the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to examine allegations raised by Bevin rather than an appointee, and he urged anyone who feels they’ve been improperly approached for campaign dollars to take their claims to the panel. The former governor also suggested that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is exploring claims regarding jeopardized highway projects in Democratic districts.

“In his news conference, Bevin accused my administration of pay-to-play politics,” Beshear said. “Well folks, we are about to receive one of the best lessons in how pay-to-play works because Matt Bevin is apparently going across this state raising money from anyone who wants something from state government to help him pay off his multi-million-dollar campaign debt to himself.

“Folks, if that’s true, this would amount to a sitting governor selling state government to the highest bidder and putting the money in his own pocket.”

Fundraising was a point of consternation in last year’s race for attorney general.

Andy Beshear’s opponent in the attorney general contest, state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, criticized how much the Democrat raised from individuals connected to his father.

Beshear’s campaign also appears to be linked to some conduit contributions described by federal prosecutors in their charges against Longmeyer. U.S. attorneys have said neither candidate mentioned in the case were aware of the pass-through donations paid by employees of the consulting firm, identified as MC Squared Consulting, in kickbacks to Longmeyer.

Steve Beshear said there’s “a vast difference in raising the money for your campaign and then getting elected, being in office and having control over all the contracts and appointments and the favors that can come out of the governor’s office, and then go out and solicit funds that are going to end up in your own pocket.”

“Who do you think’s going to own this guy after that happens?” Beshear asked.

Even though he appointed the five current members of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, Beshear says the panel has proven its independence in the past.

For instance, former Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Charles Geveden Sr. settled ethics charges that he illegally solicited campaign contributions from state employees during Beshear’s 2011 re-election campaign in violation of the state ethics code.

Geveden paid a $5,000 penalty as part of the March 2014 settlement agreement, which found him guilty of contacting employees in the justice cabinet in late 2010 and requesting specific dollar amounts based on their positions and salaries. He also attempted to have a subordinate solicit specific campaign contributions from employees under that person’s supervision, according to the settlement.

Beshear defended the commission’s track record when asked about his appointments to the panel.

“All you’ve got to do is go look at their history for the last eight years while I was governor,” Beshear said. “That didn’t stop them from investigating allegations that came to them about anybody in my administration, and it won’t stop them, I don’t believe, from investigating any allegations coming to them during this current administration. I think they’ve demonstrated their independence and their objectivity. Certainly they can’t be accused of the same political motives as Matt Bevin.”

Republican Party of Kentucky spokesman Tres Watson said Wednesday’s press conference “shows the depths to which he will sink to keep the truth about his administration from Kentuckians.”

“I too would be upset if nearly a half century of cronyism, corruption and abuse of the public trust by my Frankfort Democratic political machine was about to be laid bare for all to see,” he said in a statement.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.

TWEETS ABOUT KENTUCKY POLITICS