Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Bentley attorneys: Charges against the Governor need “context”

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY — Two attorneys for Gov. Robert Bentley had important points to make at a press conference Thursday: The basis for the Ethics Commissions’ charges against the Governor needs context, and you don’t impeach on ethical issues.

David Bryne and Ross Garber, two attorneys working for the Governor’s Office, held an impromptu press conference Thursday to respond to the ethics charges against Bentley and the House’s looming release of a written report on its impeachment investigation.

Byrne, who served on the Ethics Commission before working in the Governor’s Office, said their team spent three hours making their case to the Ethics Commission Wednesday. But they didn’t get to say everything they wanted to say.

They didn’t get to cross-examine or question their own witnesses, Byrne said, leaving them in a tough spot to respond to accusations levied in ethics complaints filed by State Auditor Jim Zeigler and Stacey George, a corrections officer and former gubernatorial candidate.

The four charges, which were referred to the Montgomery County District Attorney for further investigation, are largely vague. The Commission said one charge violated the State Ethics Law, and the other three violated campaign finance laws.

All of the charges are class B felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

The campaign finance charges seem pretty clear: Bentley loaned his campaign committee more than $50,000 when he was term limited. He accepted a travel reimbursement from the Republican Governor’s Association outside of the legal window. And he paid Rebekah Mason’s legal fees with almost $9,000 from his campaign accounts.

Byrne said the charges are not cut and dry, though.

Bentley could run for office again, the money from the RGA was immediately sent to the State in full, and Mason’s legal fees were necessary and related to the performance of Bentley’s office, Byrne said.

Garber, who is overseeing Bentley’s impeachment defense, said potential ethics and campaign law violations are not grounds for impeachment.

$11,000 from the Republican Governor’s Association

Byrne said the Governor’s legal office determined Bentley’s trip to the RGA convention was appropriate, and he secured their permission to go and use the State’s plane. When they returned, the RGA offered to pay a travel reimbursement of $11,640, but they couldn’t cut the check to the State, for what reason Byrne said he did not know. Instead, they paid it to Bentley’s campaign account.

Byrne said it was in the State Finance Director’s hand within 24 hours. The Governor’s campaign account was just a middle man for convenience’s sake.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“The governor wrote out a check, in the exact amount, to the penny,” Byrne said. “That is the kind of evidence that we think places this into a perspective and gives it some context.”

A $50,000 loan to himself

The same goes for the $50,000 loan, Byrne said. It was used to retain counsel and keep a positive balance in his campaign account.

The complaint against Bentley alleged that the loan was a contribution to Bentley’s account when he didn’t plan to seek re-election and didn’t plan to use the money for the purposes of influencing an election.

But who’s to say Bentley can’t run for office again, Byrne said.

“We believe in the context of that, that’s not a violation of the law,” Byrne said.

Rebekah Mason’s legal fees

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

The other campaign finance charge may be a little murkier for Bentley, even if he gets himself cleared of the others. Bentley used $8,900 to pay Mason’s lawyer, Bobby Segall.

Alabama campaign finance law, modeled after the Federal Fair Campaign Practices Act, allows candidates and office holders to pay their own legal fees out of their campaign committee accounts. But using it to pay employee’s legal fees is another question entirely.

Secretary of State John Merill has said the use violated state law, and the Ethics Commission seemed to find probable cause enough to agree. But Byrne says the payment was made for the direct purpose of fulfilling office business, which they said is a permissible use under the law.

According to Bentley’s lawyers, there are also two Federal court cases that found paying necessary office legal fees was also okay because it was related to their duties. The attorneys didn’t share the cases.

The ethics charge: the broadest of them all

The charge against Bentley of violating the State Ethics Act is perhaps the broadest of all four charges. The Commission, according to the Associated Press, found probable cause that Bentley used public resources to further his personal interests.

That has been the basis of nearly every complaint against Bentley, from lawmakers in the State House to the two lawsuits filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier and former chief security officer Wendall Ray Lewis.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Both alleged that the Governor fired them for disagreeing with his relationship with Mason. But before doing so, he made them use State resources and time, including State vehicles, to pick Mason up and transport her to see the Governor.

Lewis also said Bentley sent him on several hunting expeditions to find a recording Ms. Bentley made of the Governor and Mason engaging in lewd conversation over the telephone. That recording was made public in March.

Then Bentley sent Lewis to Tuscaloosa to confront his own son, Paul Bentley, about the recording, which he believed Paul had.

Collier has said Bentley also made him go to question staff members about who had the recording and who participated in getting the recording.

The Governor continued using Lewis to both facilitate the affair and attempt to end it, even asking him to drive to Gulf Shores to break-up with Mason again while she was with her family on vacation, Lewis has said. Bentley later decided that she would “be alright” and that he didn’t have to go, Lewis said.

The lawyers avoided direct questions related to the ethics charge.

Email Chip Brownlee at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

More from APR


The attorneys say the order is an abuse of judicial power.


With only two days remaining in the legislative session, the bill may have been dealt a fatal blow.


Our state needs to simplify our ethics rules to create more clarity to empower researchers, not restrict them. 


The ethics overhaul bill has undergone a number of changes since the first draft was introduced, and more changes are coming.