Report accuses state officials under Beshear of shaking down non-merits for political donations

01/11/2017 08:17 PM

An investigative report commissioned by Gov. Matt Bevin has accused a number of officials in former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration of illegally shaking down non-merit employees for political contributions, at times threatening their future employment in state government.

The “Pay to Stay” report, authored by Indianapolis law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister as part of a $500,000 contract awarded by Bevin, interviewed 16 witnesses and granted them confidentiality.

All were non-merit state workers who worked in the Personnel, Transportation, Finance and Administration, Energy and Environment, Public Protection and General Government cabinets, according to the report.

Workers in those cabinets say they were primarily asked to give to three entities: the Kentucky Democratic Party and campaigns for former Attorney General Jack Conway’s gubernatorial run and Attorney General Andy Beshear.

Attorneys wrote in the 18-page report, dated Monday, that they believe their allegations of illicit fundraising extend beyond the six aforementioned cabinets.

“We believe that there are likely numerous additional employees stationed in various offices, departments, and divisions who also received or were witness to improper solicitations for campaign contributions,” the report reads.

“We have reason to believe that the practices described by these sixteen (16) employees were systemic and pervasive. We also believe that similar findings would be obtained from additional investigation of non-merit employees in other Executive Branch cabinets.”

Steve Beshear called the investigation’s findings “a joke” and “a political hatchet job.”

“After almost a year — with access to 33,000 state workers, mind you — they came up with 16 secret and unnamed employees making vague allegations against six other employees, two of whom are dead and unable to defend themselves,” Beshear said, according to The Courier-Journal.

Andy Beshear also criticized the report as “a grossly political, partisan document.”

“I believe based on what I’ve seen, having worked at a major law firm, the citizens of Kentucky deserve a refund of their money,” he said after a Capitol news conference Wednesday.

Bevin’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment on the report, which mentions the federal bribery case against Tim Longmeyer, a former Personnel Cabinet secretary under Steve Beshear and chief deputy attorney general under Andy Beshear, that led to a 70-month prison sentence.

Federal prosecutors have said more than half of the $203,500 that Longmeyer received in the kickback scheme went to Democratic political causes, and the report notes that federal officials haven’t detailed exactly how Longmeyer distributed those funds.

Prosecutors have said Conway’s and Beshear’s campaigns unwittingly received such “straw” contributions totaling $6,000 during the 2015 election cycle.

The report also touches on the ethical missteps of Charles Geveden, a former Justice and Public Safety Cabinet official who settled a case with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission in March 2014 after he was found improperly soliciting campaign contributions from non-merit workers for the elder Beshear’s 2011 re-election campaign.

The Geveden case “is remarkably similar to much of the conduct that was revealed during our investigation,” the report says.

One witness from the Personnel Cabinet recalled bringing a news report of the Geveden investigation to her solicitor’s attention without success.

“Several witnesses also reported that, when solicitations were received, they complained to their immediate supervisors because they felt the requests were improper,” the report reads. “Rather than receiving support for their desire to resist these requests, witnesses reported that their superiors simply responded that they too had received similar requests and were also expected to contribute.”

Six others are named in the investigation’s findings, two of whom work in the Office of the Attorney General. Andy Beshear said he had not spoken with them about the report.

They six are accused of fundraising at the workplace, targeting non-merit workers and some, at times, telling those employees that the incoming administration would review a list of contributions. Some witnesses told investigators that they received envelopes pre-addressed to specific campaigns or the KDP and that those named often urged non-merit employees to give maximum contributions.

Some also told investigators that such pressures caused them to use their credit cards or borrow from family members to make requested contributions.

A witness says she was told to attend a fundraiser at KDP headquarters during the workday, and the report also alleges that a Personnel Cabinet aide raised money for judicial candidates in Jefferson County.

The latter charge matches an ethics allegation that Longmeyer chose not to dispute in his Nov. 15 settlement with the state ethics commission, which accused him of directing a subordinate to solicit contributions for a judicial campaign between 2012 and 2014.

KDP spokesman Daniel Lowry, a former non-merit employee in the Beshear administration, said no one within the former administration “ever threatened me or any other non-merits to my knowledge.”

“This report is politics as usual for Gov. Bevin, wasting half a million dollars of taxpayer dollars on playing politics for no reason other than to try to tarnish the legacy of the previous administration,” he said in a statement.

The Finance and Administration Cabinet has forwarded the report to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission for consideration, according to a letter from the cabinet dated Tuesday.

Beshear raised concerns that the law firm’s investigation would taint other inquiries into the allegations.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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