Politics

A state ethics panel says that even if Gov. Matt Bevin got a $1 million discount on a mansion bought from a political donor and appointee, he didn’t violate the state’s ethics code.

The ruling comes after two complaints were filed against Bevin over his purchase of a house and 10 acres of land from Neil Ramsey, who Bevin appointed to the Kentucky Retirement Systems board of trustees last summer.

Katie Gabhart, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, says that the board unanimously voted to dismiss the complaints.

“[N]othing in the Ethics Code prohibits two public servants from engaging in a financial transaction or giving each other gifts,” the commission wrote in its notice to one of the complainants.

The panel went on to advise Bevin to have the lieutenant governor decide if Ramsey should be reappointed to the board when his term expires in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

Bevin purchased the historic home in the Louisville suburb of Anchorage earlier this year for $1.6 million, though the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator valued the home and surrounding 10 acres at nearly $2.6 million.

Bevin and Ramsey appealed the official property assessment with the Jefferson County Local Board of Assessment Appeals, which is expected to determine the home and property’s value after an inspection next month.

Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, and Louisville Democratic Rep. Darryl Owens each filed a complaint alleging the governor had violated the state’s ethics code.

In its notice to Beliles, the commission stated that Bevin hadn’t violated the ethics code because Ramsey isn’t a lobbyist.

“The Commission has stated that unless an entity is doing business with or regulated by the Office of the Governor, or is seeking to influence the actions of the Governor, no apparent conflict will exist for the Governor or members of his staff concerning that entity,” the notice said.

In an interview, Beliles said he agreed with the commission’s advice for the governor to recuse himself from Ramsey’s reappointment, but said that Bevin’s transaction with Ramsey was still inappropriate.

“The people who might give the governor gifts are not all lobbyists. It sounds like an excuse to me—that he’s not a lobbyist so they can’t do anything about it,” Beliles said.

Before the commission met on Monday, Bevin replaced a member on its board appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear–the move meant Bevin appointees now make up a majority of members on the five-member commission.

During the meeting Monday, the commission also advised Attorney General Andy Beshear to not investigate Bevin’s house deal if he were considering a run for governor in 2019, saying it would be a conflict of interest for Beshear to investigate a political opponent.

Andy Beshear tweeted out his disagreement with the commission’s ruling, calling the panel “Bevin’s ethics commission.”

“This week Bevin’s ethics commission ruled a state contractor can give the governor a house and the attorney general cannot investigate,” Beshear said. “Your government should serve you, not enrich him. Every Kentuckian should be outraged.”

All five members of the commission—including the two members appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear—voted in favor of the decision.

This post has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.