By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The investigative arm of the State Ethics Commission is nearing completion of its probe into potential ethics violations by Gov. Robert Bentley and his former senior political adviser/alleged mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, according to those close to the investigation.
These well-placed sources say Bentley and Mason recently received letters requiring their appearance before Special Agents of the Commission.
Chief Special Agent Tony Goubil is leading exhaustive interviews with former State officials and others within Bentley’s sphere of influence, to determine if he or Mason violated State ethics laws. According to Statute, the Commission has a 180-day window to complete an ethics complaint investigation and offer recommendations. The Commission may grant an additional 180 days but an extension seems unlikely to those who spoke anonymously with The Alabama Political Reporter.
The dateline for the Commission’s findings appears to be sometime in February. The end of the inquiry comes at a time when Special Grand Juries in Montgomery and Lee Counties are still impaneled. Speculation abounds as to how these investigations will impact the up coming Legislative Session.
Several complaints were filed with the Commission concerning the couple beginning in March 2016, when State Auditor Jim Zeigler petitioned for an inquiry. Zeigler characterized his suspicions at the time telling APR, “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.”
State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay) filed ethics complaints against both Rebekah Mason and her husband, Jon, citing their failure to “truthfully, fully, and accurately file their Statements of Economic Interest (SOEI) with the State’s Ethics Commission.”
“Nowhere in the Ethics Law does it state that the Governor’s girlfriend is exempt from the Law. Nowhere in the Ethics Law does it state that the Governor’s girlfriend’s husband is exempt from the Ethics Law,” said Morrow in an interview with APR.
Morrow also filed a complaint with the commission over Mrs. Mason’s lobbying efforts to kill local legislation he sponsored in 2013.
At issue in these complaints are numerous omissions in the Mason’s SOEI, which Marrow claims, is a violation of the statute. His complaint stems from APR’s reports on the Mason’s amended filings. Among the many amendments Mr. Mason added income his wife received in the 2013 report to reflect that she had earned between $50,000 and $150,000 from her firm, RCM Communication. State records show RCM was paid $22,195 in consulting fees from Governor Bentley’s campaign account during that year.
Two individuals interviewed by Special Agents of the Commission say they were asked about Jon Mason’s qualifications to hold the position of Director of Bentley’s faith-based initiative, Serve Alabama.
Commission agents have cautioned Zeigler, Morrow, and others to refrain from discussing matters under investigation, claiming that witnesses are prohibited from speaking about the case, citing a provision in the ethics code referencing the Grand Jury Secrecy Act.
However, under “36-25-4 defining Commission; duties; complaint; investigation; hearings; fees; finding of violation, Section 11 (C)” appears to apply to the Commission and the investigation finds not individuals testimony or information. The section reads:
“Except as necessary to permit the sharing of information and evidence with the Attorney General or a district attorney, a complaint filed pursuant to this chapter or the Fair Campaign Practices Act, together with any statement, evidence, or information received from the complainant, witnesses, or other persons shall be protected by and subject to the same restrictions relating to secrecy and nondisclosure of information, conversation, knowledge, or evidence of Sections 12-16-214 to 12-16-216, inclusive, except that a violation of this section shall constitute a Class C felony. Such restrictions shall apply to all investigatory activities taken by the director, the commission, or a member thereof, staff, employees, or any person engaged by the commission in response to a complaint filed with the commission and to all proceedings relating thereto before the commission. Such restrictions shall also apply to all information and evidence supplied to the Attorney General or district attorney.”
Here, the code references protecting, “any statement, evidence, or information received from the complainant, witnesses, or other persons.” But, there is no reference to what an individual making statements or acting as a witness can publicly disclose. Law-Enforcement Officers with years of experience, speaking on background say the Commission’s investigators are misrepresenting the code.
If the Commission finds probable cause, the matter will be handed over to the State’s Attorney General for consideration of criminal charges against Bentley and Mason. The pair continue to claim they are innocent.