Gov. Bentley responds to state auditor's ethics complaint against him, Rebekah Mason

Published: Mar. 25, 2016 at 5:39 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 1, 2016 at 5:39 PM CDT
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Statement from State Auditor Jim Zeigler. Source: WBRC
Statement from State Auditor Jim Zeigler. Source: WBRC

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - State Auditor Jim Zeigler has filed an ethics complaint against Governor Robert Bentley and his top aide Rebekah Mason.

Zeigler's report to the Alabama Ethics Commission launches a formal, legal investigation into the governor's "misuse of state property, and the legality of Senior Political Advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason's status either as a public official or a lobbyist," Zeigler said.

"The Governor needs to be truthful with the people of our state, about the nature and funding of Ms. Mason's employment with his office. This is not about his personal peccadillos, it is about the improper use of state funds and the right of the people to know who is paying the advisors to our public officials," Zeigler said.

Gov. Bentley denied having a physical affair with Mason earlier this week, but admitted to making inappropriate comments in 2014. He apologized to his family and the state of Alabama for making a mistake.

An audio recording at the center of the allegations was made public on Wednesday, in which Bentley can be heard saying, "When I stand behind you and I put my arms around you and I put my hands on your breasts and I put my hands (unintelligible) and pulling you in real close. Hey, I love that too."

[Listen to part of the recordings made available on Al.com. WARNING: Some of the content may be graphic.]

Mason also issued a statement on Thursday night saying she "never had a physical affair with Robert Bentley." She said she is honored to serve as Bentley's senior political advisor and plans to continue in that role.

Mason's husband Jon said in a statement on his personal Facebook page that he "long ago resolved the personal issue playing out now for everyone this week," and asked people to continue to support "families, the governor, and our state with prayers as we all move forward."

On Friday, Zeigler said it's clear that Bentley 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."

Zeigler says he is questioning the matter in which Mason is paid, "whether Governor Bentley and Mason are using state property in furtherance of their personal relationship, and if they have used their position to interfere with an Attorney General's investigation."

The state auditor cites an advisory opinion that says "the Ethics Commission presumes that an employee who is paid from a source other than public money but who performs all of the functions of a public sector employee cannot serve until that arrangement without violating the fundamental principles underlying the Ethics Act."

Gov. Bentley said this week that he has no plans to step down from office. He released the following statement in response to Ziegler's complaint:

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.

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