A look at the ethics findings against Bentley – Miami Herald
The Alabama Ethics Commission on Wednesday found probable cause that Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley violated state ethics and campaign finance law. The commission referred the matters to the Montgomery County district attorney for possible prosecution. Bentley has maintained he did nothing wrong. The commission released few details about the four accusations. Here is what is known about the accusations and what the Bentley administration said about them.
MISUSE OF STATE RESOURCES
The commission found probable cause that Bentley used public resources, including “subordinate personnel, equipment and time all under his discretion or control to further his personal interests.”
Auditor Jim Zeigler, who filed the complaint cited in the decision, accused the governor of misusing state resources, including state aircraft, security personnel and automobiles, to further his relationship with an aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
Bentley legal adviser David Byrne said he believed that accusation involved then-Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier traveling to question a staff member about a matter and the governor’s former bodyguard, Ray Lewis, going to Tuscaloosa to speak to the governor’s son.
Collier and Lewis, who both filed civil lawsuits against the governor, have said they were involved in efforts to find out who had secretly recorded the governor in a phone conversation with a woman believed to be Mason.
Lewis said in his lawsuit that he went to talk to Tuscaloosa to speak with one of Bentley’s sons to “see what I can find out about this recording.”
Collier, who was then head of all of state law enforcement before being fired by Bentley, has said he also drove to question a staff member about the recording to see if she was involved.
The recordings, which were later publicly released, contained the governor making romantic and sexually charged remarks.
USING CAMPAIGN FUNDS TO PAY MASON’S LEGAL BILLS
The commission found probable cause that Bentley violated state campaign law by using campaign funds to pay Mason’s legal bills
Bentley used campaign funds to pay $8,912 to the firm of Mason’s attorney, Bobby Segall.
After Bentley filed his 2016 campaign report, Secretary of State John Merrill had raised concerns that it was not a permissible expense under Alabama law.
State law allows politicians to use campaign funds for office expenses and to pay their own civil and criminal defense if the accusations are related to their duties.
Byrne said the $8,912 payment was for discussions Mason’s lawyer had with the state Ethics Commission regarding her pay arrangement. Mason was not on state payroll but was paid by Bentley’s campaign funds.
Bentley’s lawyer in a February letter to the commission has argued the payment was proper because it was an office-related expense.
The commission in a 2015 advisory opinion took a dim view of public employees being paid by outside sources.
RGA TRIP REIMBURSEMENT
The commission found probable cause that Bentley improperly received a campaign contribution outside the allowable fundraising window, which is 120 days after an election
Byrne said the claim centers on money that the Republican Governors’ Association sent Bentley as reimbursement for use of the state plane when Bentley and staff members flew to Las Vegas to attend the RGA’s 2015 meeting.
RGA reimbursed the $11,640 cost of the trip to the Bentley campaign several months later, outside the allowable fundraising window.
Byrne said the RGA reimbursed the governor’s campaign account and the governor wrote a check the next day to the state.
“It was in the account 24 hours,” Byrne said.
BENTLEY’S $50,000 LOAN TO HIS CAMPAIGN
The commission found probable cause that Bentley improperly loaned his campaign money when he was not a candidate for office.
Bentley, who by law cannot run for re-election, loaned his gubernatorial campaign $50,000 in 2016. The loan to his campaign came as Bentley emptied out his remaining campaign funds to pay legal bills. It allowed him to keep a positive balance in his campaign account.
The complaint against Bentley stated that the contribution was not allowed since it was not for the purpose of influencing an election.
“We believe in the context of that, it is not a violation of the law,” Byrne said.