FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky's Republican governor said Tuesday he is hiring a private law firm to help investigate his Democratic predecessor for what he said were potentially illegal procurement practices.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said the firm will assist the state's Finance Cabinet in scrutinizing no-bid contracts and also reports of state workers being forced to make political donations by the administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear. Under state law, the private firm will have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.
"Let's be clear: corruption and pay-to-play, or pay-to-stay, will not be tolerated in this administration," Bevin told reporters, reading from a statement at the Capitol. He refused to answer questions.
Beshear called Bevin's inquiry a "pathetic spectacle" and said the accusations "have absolutely no basis in truth."
"At some point, Matt Bevin has to realize there is a time to campaign and a time to govern," Beshear said in a news release.
Bevin's announcement escalates the political war between the two administrations. Bevin and Beshear have been at odds for months, starting with a dispute over Beshear's appointment of his wife to an unpaid state commission post and continuing on to a battle over Kentucky's health care system. Beshear has launched a nonprofit critical of Bevin's health care policies that is raising money to "educate voters."
Earlier this month, Beshear's son, Attorney General Andy Beshear, sued Bevin over his mid-year budget cuts. That case awaits a hearing Thursday.
At his Capitol appearance, Bevin accused the Beshear administration of threatening to fire state employees if they did not make donations to Democratic political campaigns and causes. Without citing specifics, Bevin said state workers have "stepped forward on numerous occasions" and added they were coerced into making donations "out of fear of loss of their jobs or other retribution."
Beshear's administration has faced such accusations before. In 2014, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission imposed a $5,000 fine on a deputy secretary in Beshear's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet for calling his employees at home and telling them how much they should donate to Beshear's 2011 re-election campaign. The deputy wasn't prosecuted and has denied making threats.
And Tim Longmeyer, the former Personnel Cabinet secretary under Beshear, pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges on Tuesday, charges that include using his position to steer contributions to Democratic campaigns.
Bevin cited Longmeyer on Tuesday, saying records show he, his family and an alleged co-conspirator in the case donated more than $23,000 to Andy Beshear's campaign for attorney general. Bevin asked Andy Beshear to return that money, saying it will "go a long way toward showing the people of Kentucky that it's not 'business as usual' in the new Beshear administration."
Andy Beshear noted federal prosecutors have said neither he nor his campaign knew of Longmeyer's activities. And Beshear said he will donate any leftover money from his campaign account to Common Cause, a government watchdog group. Andy Beshear said Bevin's investigation into his father's administration was "overstating his authority."
"The appropriate agency ... for investigating the governor's allegations is the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission, an independent agency, and not a cabinet that answers to the governor," Beshear said. "Spending taxpayer money on an outside contract when such allegations should be sent to the commission is wasteful."
Bevin also questioned the handling of several state contracts by the former governor's administration. They include a decision to award a $3 million no-bid contract to a North Carolina company that employs the husband of a former Beshear official.
"No bid contracts should be used only when absolutely necessary and warrant close scrutiny," Bevin said.
Bevin himself has faced scrutiny for some of his actions in office. Democrats criticized him for appointing the wife of the Republican Senate president to a well-paid state job. Democratic lawmakers last week questioned Bevin's decision to award a no-bid, $3.6 million contract to review the state's managed care organizations for several months this year.
Democrats on the state Contract Review Committee noted the state already has a $1.7 million contract with another firm to review the organizations. Both contracts expire June 30. Medicaid Commissioner Stephen Miller told lawmakers both contracts are needed because they examine different functions of the organizations.