FRANKFORT, Ky. — One day after launching his campaign for Kentucky governor, 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 unseat.
The complaint filed by the Kentucky Democratic Party requests an investigation by the state Executive Branch Ethics Commission. The complaint cites prior commission decisions barring any attorney general from investigating a governor and then challenging that governor in an election.
State Democratic Chair 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 the investigations into the Beshear administration were “baseless.”
Later, Gov. Andy Beshear said the newest request for information from the attorney general's office arrived Wednesday night, after Cameron announced his intention to run for governor in 2023. Beshear, a former attorney general, called it an “intentional and willful” violation by Cameron.
“For more than 20 years, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission has been crystal clear -- if you are the sitting attorney general, you cannot investigate the sitting governor and then run against him,” Beshear told reporters at his weekly news conference.
The governor, who is seeking reelection next year, said it's a rule that "everybody else has followed and this attorney general has broken.”
Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, responded Thursday that Beshear's office threatened similar action last year to try to deter an investigation. It arose as Cameron's office investigated a referral from a GOP-led legislative review committee, she said.
“At that 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 was not deterred in following the law without fear or favor.”
The back-and-forth foreshadows the political slugfest that will be waged in the hotly contested governor's race. Nearly 2 1/2 years into his term, Beshear has gotten strong job approval ratings from Kentuckians, but he faces a tough reelection campaign in the Republican-trending state.
Cameron is among several Republicans already declared for the governor's contest, with more GOP candidates likely to enter the race.
Beshear and the ethics complaint offered some insights into the attorney general's investigations.
One topic 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 “completely under the law.”
Other targets of the investigation were the selection of places and the payments to provide child care for essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the complaint said. Another topic dealt with the unemployment insurance system, it said.
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 the past ethics decisions stating that an attorney general can’t run against a governor he investigated. The attorney general’s office replied that it was moving forward with the probe, Beshear said.
Beshear pointed to his experience with the issue when he was attorney general. His term was dominated by constant feuding with then-Gov. Matt Bevin. Beshear narrowly defeated the Republican incumbent in the 2019 election.
When a controversy arose over Bevin's purchase of a Louisville home from a campaign donor, Beshear asked the Executive Branch Ethics Commission if it would be proper for him to do the investigation. The commission said if he conducted the probe, he could not run against Bevin without committing an ethics violation. Beshear referred the matter to federal authorities.
“All we're asking is that everybody follow the same set of rules — the same ones that I did,” the governor said Thursday.
Beshear said it’s a continuing violation every day Cameron is in the governor’s race.
Asked to respond to the ethics complaint, Cameron campaign strategist Brandon Moody said: “Over a year out and Beshear is already acting this desperate?”