Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced his resignation after being booked on violations of campaign finance law this afternoon — bringing an end to a year-long scandal surrounding his admittedly inappropriate relationship with a former staff member.
Despite recent claims that he had “no intention of resigning,” Bentley’s announcement on Monday was all but certain following action taken last week by the Alabama Ethics Commission, which found he had violated state ethics and campaign laws on four occasions.Those charges were alleged he’d used his campaign funds and state resources to facilitate and ultimately cover up an alleged affair with his former chief political strategist Rebekah Mason.
“Though I have sometimes failed, I’ve always tried to live up to the high expectations the people place on the person who holds this esteemed office. Though I have committed myself to working to improve the lives of the people of our state, there have been times that I’ve let you and our people down, and I’m sorry for that,” Bentley said. “I can no longer allow my family, my dear friends and my dedicated staff and cabinet to be subjected to the consequences that my past actions have brought upon them.”
Though Bentley struck a conciliatory tone, he never specifically mentioned his alleged affair with Mason nor any of the salacious details that emerged from the damning report released last week as part of an impeachment investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.With Bentley’s resignation, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey became Alabama’s 54th governor and the second woman to hold the state’s highest office. Earlier this afternoon — on governor’s official letterhead — Ivey sent notice of a swearing-in ceremony that was conducted at 6 p.m. in Alabama’s Senate chambers.
Former Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks was appointed by Attorney General Steven Marshall to oversee an ongoing investigation into Bentley’s office earlier this year after Marshall recused himself because he was appointed to the position by the governor.
On Monday, Brooks announced that Bentley pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Court to charges that he failed to disclose a $50,000 personal loan to his campaign fund in a timely manner and used nearly $9,000 of campaign funds for personal benefit by using them to help cover legal costs incurred by Mason.
Bentley signed off on the terms of that plea agreement after being booked into the Montgomery County Jail, where he was arrested, processed and released in a matter of minutes.
“These charges may seem small to some people, but they are indicators of a governor who is not following the law,” Brooks said. “I’m hopeful that tomorrow is a new day for the state of Alabama and that this sends a message to all public officials and want-to-be public officials: Follow the law. It’s that simple.”According to his plea agreement, Bentley contributed $50,000 to his campaign in the form of a personal loan in November 2016 but did not disclose that contribution in any report until January 23, 2017.
He also used his campaign funds to pay $8,912 to a Pennsylvania-based law firm in January 2016 — compensating the firm for its representation of Mason concerning her service as Bentley’s “senior political advisor” while she received compensation from a dark money group called the Alabama Council for Excellent Government (ACEGOV).
According to the agreement, Bentley won’t serve jail time but will undergo 12 months of supervised probation, pay $7,000 in criminal fines, repay $8,912 and turn over the remaining $36,912 in his campaign fund to the state of Alabama before the end of the week.
In addition, he also agreed to forgo his retirement benefits — something Brooks said would ultimately save the state more than $1 million. Besides the fiscal cost of Bentley’s actions and his decision to fend them off for a year, Brooks said the scandal had been “embarrassing” for the state and “not representative of who the people of Alabama are.”
When questioned about the severity of the former governor’s sentence, Brooks pointed out the political and personal repercussions Bentley’s faced from his own actions since 2015.
“He is 74 years old, he’s lost his job, he’s lost his church and he’s lost his family, though that’s not to sound sorry for him. He did what he did, but part of our agreement was for him to pay back as much as he could to the state,” Brooks said. “We also wanted to resolve this today. The Legislature has spent an incredible about of time and energy on this, and they can now devote their attention to the more important issues facing our state.”
While she said the investigation into Bentley’s office was over, Brooks did specify that inquires about “other subjects” of that investigation were still being completed. However, she refrained from commenting on “any particular person” saying “no good prosecutor would.”
While Monday’s changing of the guard in Montgomery seems to have put a bow on a year of scandal that’s crowded Alabama politics, it isn’t the end of the troubles for the former governor.
Ousted from power, Bentley is still facing two separate civil lawsuits filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier and his former security chief Ray Lewis. There are also state leaders, like State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who feel Bentley should repay all of the money he cost Alabama taxpayers through his efforts to protect himself from the fallout of this scandal.