Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler has submitted an official report with the Alabama Ethics Commission, requesting the body investigate allegations Gov. Robert Bentley participated in an affair with senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a former staffer who is no longer a state employee.
Former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency director Spencer Collier disclosed knowledge Wednesday of a recording of the governor making comments of an intimate nature to who was presumed to be Mason, as well as an incident of viewing an explicit text message.
The governor has denied a “sexual” affair occurred.
Zeigler said he submitted the report as a request for the commission to investigate whether any state resources were unlawfully used in the alleged relationship.
“The governor continues to disgrace the state of Alabama, and in my official capacity as state auditor, I am required to report these suspected violations,” said Zeigler said in a prepared statement released Friday afternoon. “It is clear that he 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 told Alabama Today the report stemmed from his discovering a seldom-used provision in the law, 36-25-17, requiring any agency head, which includes the auditor, who receives information of a violation of the ethics law shall report it to the Ethics Commission.
“I am expecting next week, to get honest state employees, which is the majority, come into my office or call in with more information,” Zeigler said. “The information I get about any issue or problem is not self-generated, it comes from citizens or state employees contacting me with information.”
Zeigler identified Collier as one of the sources for his information, but noted there were other sources. The auditor also said he expects to file two or three supplemental reports within the next month.
Though Bentley’s former chief of staff, Seth Hammett also worked for the governor’s office while being paid by an outside group, the governor received permission from the Ethics Commission.
No such permission was sought in the case of Mason’s arrangement with 501(c)4 group Alabama Council for Excellent Government (ACEGOV), whose website states the group “supports Governor Bentley’s bold vision to lead Alabama with greater economic opportunities and by tackling our state’s challenges with real solutions.”
Zeigler has been a frequent critic of the governor’s since his own election in 2014, but in recent months he and Bentley have sparred over the very nature of the State Auditor’s office.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Beckman, would make the offices of State Auditor and Agriculture Commissioner appointed, rather than elected, positions.
Zeigler said the move would be like “the fox guarding the hen house.”
Stopping short of asking the governor to step down himself, Zeigler said he believes the only way Bentley will leave his office is if the Alabama Legislature removes him, or he’s convicted of ethics violations.