FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A day after launching his campaign for governor of Kentucky, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron was hit with a formal complaint Thursday alleging he violated ethics laws by investigating the Democratic governor he now wants to overthrow.
The lawsuit filed by the Kentucky Democratic Party seeks an investigation by the state’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission. The complaint cites previous commission rulings barring any attorney general from investigating a governor and then challenging that governor in an election.
Democratic state chairman Colmon Elridge said the investigation targeting Beshear’s administration represents a “clear conflict of interest” between Cameron’s public duties and his political interests. The Democratic leader said investigations into the Beshear administration were “baseless”.
Later, Gov. Andy Beshear said the latest request for information from the attorney general’s office came Wednesday night, after Cameron announced his intention to run for governor in 2023. Beshear, a former attorney general, called it an “intentional and deliberate” violation by Cameron.
“For more than 20 years, the Executive Ethics Commission has been crystal clear – if you’re the sitting attorney general, you can’t investigate the sitting governor and then go against him,” Beshear told reporters. journalists during his weekly press conference.
The governor, who is seeking re-election next year, said it was a rule “everyone followed and this attorney general broke”.
Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, responded Thursday that Beshear’s office had threatened to take similar action last year to try to deter an investigation. It came as Cameron’s office was investigating a referral to a GOP-led legislative review committee, she said.
“At this time, the governor’s office used the threat of an ethics complaint in an apparent attempt to prevent this office from investigating,” Kuhn said in a statement. “The office has not been deterred from following the law without fear or favor.”
The back-and-forth foreshadows the political tussle that will unfold in the hotly contested race for governor. Nearly 2½ years into his term, Beshear has earned strong job approval ratings from Kentuckians, but he faces a tough re-election campaign in the Republican-leaning state.
Cameron is among several Republicans already declared for the gubernatorial contest, with more GOP candidates likely to enter the race.
Beshear and the Ethics Complaint offered insight into the Attorney General’s investigations.
One of the topics was the contract to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol in 2020, the governor said. The state finance cabinet handled the details to remove the statue of the Confederate president, he said, adding that it was done “entirely under the law.”
Other targets of the investigation were location selection and payments to provide child care services to essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the complaint. Another topic concerned the unemployment insurance system, he added.
Beshear said his administration was first contacted by Cameron’s office about a year and a half ago about the investigation. The governor said his administration pointed to past ethics rulings that an attorney general cannot run against a governor he has investigated. The attorney general’s office responded that it was continuing the investigation, Beshear said.
Beshear pointed to his experience with the issue when he was attorney general. His tenure was dominated by constant feuds with the governor at the time. Matt Bevin. Beshear narrowly beat the incumbent Republican in the 2019 election.
When controversy erupted over Bevin’s purchase of a Louisville home from a campaign donor, Beshear asked the Executive Ethics Commission if it would be appropriate for him to lead the investigation. The commission said that if he conducted the investigation, he could not come forward against Bevin without committing an ethics violation. Beshear referred the matter to federal authorities.
“All we’re asking is that everyone follow the same set of rules — the same as me,” the governor said Thursday.
Beshear said it’s a continuing violation every day Cameron is in the gubernatorial race.
Asked to respond to the ethics complaint, Cameron campaign strategist Brandon Moody said: “Over a year and Beshear is already acting desperately?”