By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama Ethics Commission has responded to State Auditor Jim Zeigler’s (R) request to initiate an investigation into actions by Governor Robert Bentley (R) and his senior political adviser/alleged mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
While intra-agency romance is not illegal in Alabama, there are allegations that the duo may have violated portions of state’s ethics laws, such as using state resources like body guards, vehicles, and jets to facilitate the alleged romantic encounters.
The Ethics Commission said that a special agent would be assigned to the case and informed Zeigler on Tuesday that two case numbers have been assigned to the case.
Zeigler said when he filed his report on Friday, “It is clear that he is misleading the people of the State about the nature of his relationship, but it is also clear that Ms. Mason is required to either be classified as a public official, or file as a lobbyist, in her capacity as an advisor who is paid by an outside source.”
Mason began her government service as a spokesperson for the Bentley Administration. When Bentley ran for re-election she started a political consultant business with Bentley as the primary client. Once Bentley was reelected her role as senior political advisor was being paid for by a private charity: Bentley’s Council for Excellence in Government, which has shadowy non-reported donors. Zeigler is asking if that makes Mason a lobbyist.
Zeigler said, “The Governor continues to disgrace the state of Alabama, and in my official capacity as state auditor, I am required to report these suspected violations.”
The Ethics Commission also asked the auditor to, “Refrain from discussing this matter publicly,” to protect the investigation’s integrity. “All Ethics Commission investigations are covered by the Grand Jury Secrecy Act.”
Gov. Bentley responded to the ethics complaint in a statement: “I have always complied with the ethics laws of the State. In fact, I voluntarily release my tax returns to the public every year in a spirit of openness and transparency. I have always and will continue to cooperate with the Alabama Ethics Commission.”
The Ethics Commission investigation will be separate from the ongoing State and Federal investigations into possible criminal ethics violations by the Bentley Administration.
Zeigler was elected in 2014. He has said that he had no intention of becoming the “anti-Bentley” when he was elected; but that the Governor’s actions were too troubling for him to remain silent. Whether it was: defending trees in Eufaula, paintings of George and Lurleen Wallace, the Confederate flags at the Confederate Veterans Memorial, State parks, rural driver’s license offices, or protesting Bentley’s myriad of proposed tax increases Zeigler has been the only statewide elected official willing to publicly spar with the Governor and Mrs. Mason.
Perhaps to curry favor with the Governor’s office, the establishment powers in Montgomery have responded by dramatically slashing the budget for the Auditor’s office. Rep. Paul Beckman (R-Prattville) has even introduced legislation that would allow Bentley to pick both his own State Auditor and Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries. That legislation and another crippling cut to the Auditor’s office are both before the legislature once they return from their Spring vacation.