Alabama’s state auditor on Friday filed an ethics report alleging that Gov. Robert Bentley and the adviser he is accused of having an affair with misused state property and resources.
Bentley, a Republican, has been accused of having an affair with his top political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
The report filed by State Auditor Jim Zeigler initiates a formal investigation. In the report, Zeigler cited news reports that said Mason is paid by a group called the Alabama Council for Excellent Government to further its policies, and the claim from a former top law enforcement official that she is the “de facto” governor.
"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,” Zeigler, also a Republican, said in a statement.
"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 said.
The report also claims that the two "have been using state property and resources in furtherance of their personal relationship."
Excerpts purported to be from a sexually-charged conversation between the two were published this week, and a fired top law enforcement official alleged the two had an affair and he was dismissed for refusing to lie about it.
Bentley on Wednesday apologized for a "mistake" but denied that any physical relationship took place, and said he has not done anything illegal or asked anyone to lie. Mason has also denied having a physical affair with Bentley. Bentley and his wife divorced last year.
The governor on Friday said in response to the ethics report: "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.”
Spencer Collier, former secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, said at a press conference Wednesday that he was fired the day before because he went against the governor’s wishes and signed an affidavit sought by the attorney general’s office.
Collier said he saw a text message on the governor’s phone that was sexual in nature in 2014 and confronted Bentley, who promised to end the relationship but didn’t. Collier said he was fired for allegedly misusing state funds, a charge he denies.
"Governor Bentley was elected by an overwhelming majority of the people of this state, but Rebekah Mason was not elected by anyone, and the level of influence that she is yielding makes her the de facto governor," he said.
Mason accused Collier of sexism. Mason has worked for Bentley since 2010, rising from campaign press secretary to senior political adviser, she said. "I am proud of what I have accomplished in my political career,” she said in a statement Thursday.
"There is no way that a man would have said what he did today about another man. He only said what he said about my professional abilities because I am a woman. His comments were clear, demonstrated gender bias," she said.