FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky attorney general’s office says it is not currently investigating the governor’s office but claims that Gov. Andy Beshear mischaracterized a recent information request — the latest twist in an escalating political feud.
Beshear said this week it was “news to us” that Attorney General Daniel Cameron has no active investigation of his office. The Democratic governor maintains the Republican attorney general broke ethics rules by investigating his administration and later filing paperwork to run against him for governor.
The back and forth set an early tone in what is already a politically charged clash between the two rivals. A win by either in next year’s election would further elevate their credentials as rising political stars on the national stage. Cameron is among several Republicans already in the governor’s race, with more GOP candidates expected to announce bids. Beshear is seeking a second term next year.
The dispute erupted in public a day after Cameron launched his gubernatorial campaign last week. The Kentucky Democratic Party filed a complaint alleging that Cameron violated ethics laws, requesting an investigation by the state Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
State Democratic Chair Colmon Elridge said the investigation represented a “clear conflict of interest” between Cameron’s public duties and his political interests.
That same day, Beshear told reporters that the newest request for information from the attorney general’s office arrived on the same day that Cameron announced his intention to run for governor. He called it an “intentional and willful” violation by Cameron.
But the attorney general’s office says the communication was an open records request. It sought information related to a lawsuit filed by the governor challenging two laws enacted by the state’s Republican-led legislature, Cameron’s office says. Cameron’s office is defending the laws in court. One of the measures being contested by the governor would bar anyone but the attorney general from using state funds to challenge the constitutionality of a law. It was a direct response to several of Beshear’s lawsuits as governor.
“The request sought records detailing the total amount that the governor’s office has expended on outside counsel — a relevant and important fact for the civil litigation brought by the governor,” Cameron spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn said this week in a statement.
Beshear questioned the use of an open records request to obtain the information.
“The right way to get documents related to a lawsuit is through the court process,” the governor said in an interview. “We have a process called discovery, which is how you request documents.”
He conceded that the request likely didn’t violate ethics rules if it wasn’t part of an investigation.
“None of it changes the fact that this attorney general refused to abide by the rules that every previous attorney general has followed,” the governor said. “That are based on 20 years of very clear ethics opinions that say you can’t launch one investigation of a sitting governor and then run against them.”
The two offices exchanged pointed letters staking out their positions in the dispute.
A letter from Deputy Attorney General Victor Maddox and a separate statement from the AG's office confirmed the existence of at least one previous investigation involving Beshear’s administration. Maddox's May 17 letter said the matter was “subsequently closed.”
In an updated statement this week, Kuhn said: “Our office has no active investigation of the governor’s office.” She didn’t comment on the outcome of any other investigations. Nor did she comment on whether her statement applied to all of Beshear’s administration.
The governor said last week that he thought the investigation was ongoing.
Beshear has said one investigative topic was the contract to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol in 2020. The state Finance Cabinet handled the details to remove the statue of the Confederate president, he said, adding that it was done “completely under the law.”
Other targets of investigation were the selection of places and the payments to provide child care for essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Democratic Party’s ethics complaint. Another topic dealt with the unemployment insurance system, it said.