Panel: Stumbo Faces Potential Conflict If He Runs For Governor

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A gubernatorial campaign by Attorney General Greg Stumbo could pose a conflict of interest because his office prosecuted Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher in a state hiring scandal, an ethics panel said Friday.

The ruling, however, does not prevent him from becoming a candidate.

Stumbo, a Democrat, had asked the panel to reconsider an earlier decision that he could not run for governor without confronting a "perceived or actual" conflict of interest.

"Given that the attorney general publicly indicated to the press during the course of the investigation that he was 'considering' a possible run for the office of governor in 2007, if he were to now file as a candidate, it would increase the potential that a conflict existed during the previous investigation and prosecution," the Executive Branch Ethics Commission said in its opinion.

Stumbo said he may seek a legal review of the opinion.

"I must protect the statutory duty of future Attorneys General to investigate public corruption wherever it is found," Stumbo said in a statement.

In a letter earlier this month, Stumbo's attorney, Michael Bowling, told the commission its previous ruling could also affect how prosecutors handle cases.

The attorney general's office began investigating allegations in May 2005 that Fletcher's administration illegally rewarded political supporters with state jobs after he took office. Fletcher, who maintained the investigation was politically motivated, gave a blanket pardon in August 2005 to anyone except himself who could be charged in the probe.

A Franklin County special grand jury indicted Fletcher on misdemeanor charges that were eventually dropped in a deal with prosecutors.

Because Fletcher agreed in his deal with prosecutors that the investigation was "necessary and proper," there could not be a conflict of interest if Stumbo were to run for governor, Bowling argued.

Patrick Moores, a former Personnel Board member forced to resign because of Fletcher's deal with prosecutors, abstained from voting on the opinion. Fletcher appointed Moores to the panel on Thursday.

Fletcher told reporters he did not want to comment on the ethics decision but said he still felt Stumbo's handling of the investigation was politically motivated.

"During the investigation, I clearly said that there was quite a conflict of interest," Fletcher said. "But that's over with, and I'll leave that for the ethics board to decide at this point."

Meanwhile, state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo said he would make public a decision by a separate ethics panel that has called into question a political action committee called DANPAC, an acronym for Democrat Activist Network PAC. Earlier this week, the Legislative Ethics Commission found "probable cause" to continue an investigation
into Mongiardo's relationship with the PAC.

State legislators, under Kentucky law, are not allowed to have permanent committees formed in their names.

Mongiardo said he was a distant adviser and cut his ties once he learned of a potential problem. He called it "an honest mistake" and said he wouldn't let it happen again.

"It was just a mistake that I made that was entirely my fault," Mongiardo said.

The ethics panel has not yet ruled on the matter.

And state Treasurer Jonathan Miller and Jefferson County Attorney Irv Maze filed papers Friday with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance allowing them to raise money for next year's Democratic primary. They plan to file their official candidacy papers after the holidays.

Miller is in his second term as treasurer and by law may not seek another, while Maze is in his third term as county attorney.

"We are running to put the government back to work for the people of Kentucky," Miller said in a statement.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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