The Executive Branch Ethics Commission says that if Attorney General Andy Beshear plans on running for governor in 2019, he shouldn’t investigate allegations that Gov. Matt Bevin used his office to get a deal on a mansion he bought earlier this year.
But the state ethics agency also issued an advisory opinion saying that Beshear could request a third-party investigator to look into the governor’s transaction.
Beshear, a Democrat, asked the commission to weigh in on whether it would be a conflict of interest to investigate the Republican governor, who might be a future political opponent.
Bevin has been under scrutiny for his purchase of a mansion in the Louisville suburb of Anchorage from a political donor and appointee. On Friday, the governor filled the final vacancy on the five-member Ethics Commission, which means Bevin appointees now make up a majority of the board.
Katie Gabhart, the executive director of the commission, said Beshear would have a conflict by looking into a potential political opponent.
“If the attorney general does not wish to declare at this time whether or not he will run for office of governor during the 2019 election but intends to have his office conduct the investigation, he could risk violating the ethics code the day he seeks to run,” Gabhart said during the meeting.
Beshear has not said whether or not he will run for governor in 2019 or seek re-election to his current office.
Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown disagreed with the commission’s decision, saying it has a chilling effect on the attorney general’s actions.
“I think you can’t force somebody in that position,” Brown said. “Particularly when you don’t know if there’s an actual conflict or you don’t know if there’s been any personal interest involved.”
The Courier-Journal first reported in March that Bevin and his family moved into an estate in Anchorage that was previously owned by Neil Ramsey, a political donor appointed by the governor to the Kentucky Retirement Systems board.
Bevin paid $1.6 million for the mansion, seemingly a more than $1 million discount compared to Jefferson County’s official property estimate of $2.97 million for the house and surrounding 19 acres.
The governor said the county’s estimate is flawed because he only owns 10 acres of the surrounding land and that the house is old and in disrepair.
Richard Beliles, chairman of watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky, and Louisville Democratic Rep. Darryl Owens filed complaints over the deal with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
Gabhart, the commission’s executive director, said state law prevents her from confirming the complaints have been filed.
It’s possible the complaints will be considered during an executive session of the commission on Monday.