Alabama governor empties campaign account to pay legal bills

AP News
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Posted: Feb 01, 2017 9:25 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley emptied his campaign account to pay legal bills as he faced an impeachment push and fallout from a scandal, according to a campaign report filed Tuesday.

Bentley paid more than $320,000 in legal bills in 2016. The governor, who by law cannot seek re-election, reported loaning his campaign $50,000. That enabled him to end the year with a $25,000 balance.

Bentley faced questions after he was accused of having an affair with his former senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. The governor has acknowledged personal mistakes, but maintained he did nothing illegal.

The House Judiciary Committee in November paused an impeachment investigation at the request of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who said his office is pursuing "related work." Strange has not clarified what that work is.

Mason, who played a central role in the administration, was not on the state payroll but was paid by campaign funds. She resigned in March shortly after the scandal broke.

The campaign finance report shows that Bentley paid Mason $37,807 last year. The payments stopped in April, shortly after her resignation. Bill Athanas, an attorney who now represents Bentley, said all of the payments to Mason and her company relate to her service as senior political adviser before her resignation.

The report also showed that Bentley used campaign funds to pay Mason's attorney. The campaign paid $8,912 to the firm of Mason's attorney, Bobby Segall, in January.

The scandal erupted after former Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier — a day after being fired by Bentley — accused the governor of having an inappropriate relationship with Mason before his divorce. The scandal engulfed Bentley, a mild-mannered dermatologist and former Baptist deacon whose political ascendency was based partly on his morally upright, honest reputation.

The bulk Bentley's campaign money went to law firm of Montgomery attorney Joe Espy, who represented the governor.

A state attorney general's opinion interpreting Alabama law says politicians can use excess campaign funds for legal bills and defense if the accusations relate to the official's actions in office.

Former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was convicted last year on ethics charges, spent more than $300,000 in campaign funds on his criminal defense.