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Bevin probe alleges Democrats coerced workers to donate

By ADAM BEAM Associated Press

FRANKFORT -- An investigation commissioned by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin relies on interviews with 16 anonymous state employees to conclude officials in the previous Democratic administration committed "wholesale violations of state law."

The 18-page report is the first to emerge after Bevin awarded a contract of up to $500,000 to investigate former Gov. Steve Beshear's administration.

The report asserts seven Beshear administration officials illegally pressured some state workers to donate to Democratic candidates and causes or risk losing their jobs.

It offers no corroborating evidence, citing interviews with 16 people who reported being pressured but not naming them. A request for transcripts of those interviews was denied.

The state Finance and Administration Cabinet has forwarded the report to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission along with a letter promising to "cooperate fully with any investigation initiated by the Commission." State law bans soliciting campaign donations from state employees.

Beshear called the report "a joke," adding the authors should be "charged with theft of public money."

"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 ... other employees, two of whom are dead and unable to defend themselves," Beshear said.

"Anyone, including the 16 unnamed employees, who ever felt any pressure to give a campaign donation has always had an appropriate place to have their allegations investigated - the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. And it wouldn't have cost $500,000 in taxpayer money to do so," he added.

Two former Beshear officials have admitted to similar allegations in the past.

Tim Longmeyer, Beshear's Personnel Cabinet secretary, pleaded guilty last year to federal bribery charges. And Charles Gedeven, former deputy secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet under Beshear, was fined $5,000 by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission for pressuring state workers to donate to campaigns.

Of the five people named in Bevin's report who are still alive, four agreed to be interviewed by investigators. All denied the allegations. Some later criticized the report for relying on flimsy evidence. The report names William "Bill" Ryan, the former special assistant to Longmeyer, as pressuring workers to donate. But Steve Ryan, Bill Ryan's brother and an attorney representing him, said investigators would never tell them who made the accusations.

"They either didn't know or couldn't say," Steve Ryan said. "It's hard to prove a negative."

The report, written by attorneys at the Indiana-based law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister, said it did not identify the state employees making the accusations because they each had a "strong desire not to implicate former colleagues" and they feared retaliation "from a future political administration."

The report is critical of Steve Beshear's administration, but does not say the former governor knew about the activity. Employees said their supervisors would leave envelopes on their desks, self-addressed to political campaigns. Some workers said they were instructed to use their personal leave time to attend a Democratic fundraiser during work hours. Others said they were told party leaders were keeping track of who donated.

The report says the donations were funneled to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway and Democratic attorney general candidate Andy Beshear, who is Steve Beshear's son. Beshear won the election, while Conway lost.

All of the employees noted both they and their spouses were expected to donate $2,000 to various Democratic campaigns, the maximum allowed by law.

Some said they had to use a credit card because they didn't have enough cash to cover it.

The report does not include emails or other written communications to verify the claims made by the 16 workers who were interviewed, noting the solicitations were made either in person or by phone.

Bevin awarded the law firm a contract not to exceed $500,000 to conduct the investigation. Democrats questioned the firm's objectivity, noting it also has done work for the Kentucky Republican Party.

But Republicans dismissed those concerns, noting the Beshear administration approved contracts with a Lexington law firm that employed Beshear before and after his term as governor.

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