Gov. Bevin's Accusations: Some Thoughts

Bruce Maples (bruceinlouisville@gmail.com)
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Today, Governor Bevin held a press conference where he read a statement alleging significant wrong-doing by the previous administration. (Protip for the Gov: it’s not a press conference if you don’t take any questions. It’s a speech.)

I’ve read the Governor’s statement (available here), done some research of my own, and have a few thoughts to share about Gov. Bevin’s accusations. If you want to cut to the chase, you can go to the TL;DR summary here.

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First of all, let’s be clear: If there was actual corruption beyond the Longmeyer case (which we already know about), then it must be investigated, documented, and dealt with. Doesn’t matter who is affected; public service is called a public trust for a reason.

And, if there was actual coercion of votes, that must be investigated and dealt with as well. Serving as a non-merit state employee and dealing with the possibility that an election will affect your livelihood is hard enough; pressure from a superior to donate just adds to the situation. Most people aren’t stupid; they know that the outcome of the election can affect their employment, and they don’t need to be told.

Having said the above, though, there are some specific thoughts I’d like to share about Gov. Bevin’s accusations – and that’s all they are at this point, accusations – some of which are more wild-eyed than others.

1. “The Tim Longmeyer federal criminal investigation reveals that apparently ill-gotten gains were directed to Attorney General Beshear’s 2015 campaign, to other Democratic candidates and to the Democratic Party.”

Well, let’s look at tonight’s news story about Longmeyer pleading guilty: “Prosecutors also have not revealed who received illegal campaign donations from the scheme, concealed through ‘straw donors.’” Longmeyer gave money to Beshear’s campaign, so you could use the all-money-is-fungible argument and say that the bribes wound up there; but, calling out Andy Beshear by name, especially after he has sued to stop the current-year budget cuts, looks like drive-by spitefulness on your part, Governor. But, let us move on.

2. “Public records also show that state employees contributed at least $140,000 to the Beshear for Attorney General Campaign in 2014 and 2015.”

And public records show that state employees donated thousands to Comer as well. The fact that citizens choose to give to a candidate doesn’t mean anything, except by innuendo.

In fact, public records (the KREF database) show that at least seven employees currently working in the Ag Commission donated to the Quarles campaign. Should we then assume that they were coerced? Or, that they were trying to feather their nest ahead of time? Guilt by donation cuts both ways, Governor.

3. “Employees have stepped forward on numerous occasions and explained how they were essentially coerced and that they complied out of fear of loss of their jobs or other retribution. This investigation is preliminary, but we’ve learned enough to have significant concerns.”

As noted earlier, this is a serious charge. My question is, what about now, Governore? Are they being coerced now? They work for you now – are they trying to get on YOUR good side by giving you ammunition?

And what does “essentially coerced” mean? Coercion is a very clear thing: “if you don’t do that, then I’m going to do this.” Throwing the word “essential” in there makes it look much less clear: “Well, I asked my boss what might happen if Jack lost, and he said we’d probably all lose our jobs, so I just felt like I had to donate.” Not sure that meets the legal definition of coercion.

Even so, you proceed to smear your predecessor and his son … then give yourself an out by saying “This investigation is preliminary.” So, you’re okay with throwing serious mud based on a preliminary investigation? Sounds like campaigning, not governing, Governor.

Again, I will say that if there were actual closed-door meetings where people were told to donate right then, or risk being fired, then put the evidence out there and let’s weed that out. But throwing out charges of “essential coercion” then saying “well, the investigation is preliminary” just makes it look like you enjoy throwing out charges, just for the fun of attacking your predecessor.

4. “On its last day in office, the Beshear administration awarded a $3 million no-bid contract for fraud-detection services to SAS Institute, of North Carolina, a company that retained the husband of Beshear’s Secretary of the Cabinet as a consultant and employed a former Governor’s Office official as a lobbyist.”

A number of comments to make about this. First of all, no-bid contracts happen for a reason, and usually for a good reason: either the recipient is the only company qualified to do the work, or the recipient is already far along in the work and switching companies would be wasteful.

This particular contract was for an ongoing fraud detection and prevention program, running against state benefit data across multiple agencies. This is not something you do with a few Excel spreadsheets. It takes serious analytical muscle, and SAS is one of the leaders in this field.

Also note that this was not a new contract; instead, it was a one-year extension of work that SAS was already doing.

The real question here is whether the relationships had anything to do with SAS getting the extension. Considering that Mary Lassiter listed her husband’s relationship with SAS on her financial disclosure statements, AND that she had no role in the procurement process, we are left with Gov. Bevin making an accusation, and the Lassiters trying to prove a negative. (Oh, and one more thing — don’t be thrown by the “partner” status of Frank Lassiter with SAS. It simply means that Lassiter’s business was one of thousands that could deliver SAS services.)

If you have proof that the awarding of the contract was specifically to benefit the Lassiters, and not for good business reasons, then bring forward the proof, Governor. Otherwise, this is another “it looks bad, so I’ll use it” situation.

5. “I am asking the Secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet, Col. Bill Landrum, using the extensive investigative powers given to him in KRS Chapter 45, to prepare and issue an RFP for a thorough, in-depth investigation and report by an attorney or law firm with experience in investigating activities and contracts like I have outlined.”

From what I can gather, Col. Landrum has a good amount of experience in this space, and is well suited to understand the ins and outs of the issues. However, I have two questions about this step:

  • Governor, why do you want an outside firm to do this work, when KRS 11 clearly states that it is the responsibility of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to carry out this investigation?
  • And, since Col. Landrum reports to you, is there a possibility that his findings could be coerced?

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The TL;DR Summary

  • Some serious charges were made by the Governor.
  • He also made a number of innuendos, and phrased his statements to make them sound worse than they were.
  • He intimated that the Attorney General (with whom he is fighting in court) was somehow at fault for accepting campaign contributions from state workers, even though candidates on both sides of the aisle receive such contributions in every election.
  • He said that “many” state workers (how many?) were “essentially coerced” to donate to the Beshear and Conway campaigns, which is a strange turn of phrase with multiple interpretations, without offering any proof.
  • He further intimated that the SAS contract was done to benefit the Lassiters, again without proof.
  • And finally, he bypassed the agency set up by the Legislature to investigate ethics violations, and instead plans to hire an outside firm under the control of his own appointee.

Could there be real wrong-doing here? Yep. Did we hear any proof of it today? Nope. Should the Governor have taken questions from the press? Yep. Did the manner in which the Governor rolled out these charges make it look politically motivated? Yep. Should he have waited until he was ready with the report? Yep.

And in case anyone thinks I am trying to blow this whole thing off: I want government that is clean, transparent, ethical, and above-board. If there is actual corruption or coercion, then let’s get it found and fixed.

But calling a no-questions press conference and firing off a bunch of allegations before bypassing your own Ethics Commission doesn’t come across as the act of a concerned public official. Instead, it looks like a tactic planned to score political points.

There’s a time and a place for scoring political points, Governor. Placing charges of corruption isn’t one of those times.

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