FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky State Treasurer Allison Ball testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary Thursday morning, presenting her findings of unconstitutional actions by the Governor’s Administration related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ball testified with Noah Friend, General Counsel of the Office of the State Treasurer. Treasurer Ball revealed multiple instances of targeted enforcement of restrictions against churches and religious activity violating First Amendment protections.
“As State Treasurer, I have an obligation to see that state expenditures are spent constitutionally. In counties across the Commonwealth, we found numerous examples of directives by the Governor’s Administration to local health departments and police to monitor and report under threat of criminal penalties for Kentuckians attending worship services,” Treasurer Ball said. “Religious communities are not asking for special treatment, the Administration is required by the Constitution to give them equal protection. That has not been done.”
Beshear’s office called it election politics.
With less than two weeks until Election Day, Allison Ball is playing politics while Gov. Beshear is fighting to save lives. Kentuckians know the order relating to religious gatherings was withdrawn in May and the U.S. Supreme Court has since ruled that such actions are legal. As a deacon in his church, the Governor believes the treasurer is wrong to use faith to create fear and stoke division between Kentuckians. As Governor, he has regularly featured religious leaders in his press conferences and often speaks about his strong faith<‘ Beshear’s Communications Director Crystal Staley said.
“Early in the pandemic, at a time when hospitals in New York and New Jersey were overrun, and the country lacked sufficient PPE and testing, Gov. Beshear took the same steps as other governors by prohibiting mass gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the lives of Kentuckians. He urges the treasurer to set aside partisan politics and prioritize Kentuckians and their health during this pandemic, which has killed more than 1,300 people in the commonwealth and is currently surging with record cases,” Staley continued.
Many faith leaders understood the severity of the crisis and supported the orders, including the Kentucky Council of Churches, http://www.ccinky.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/KCC-Statement-on-Covid-19-final.pdf, as well as many faith leaders who participated in Beshear briefings via video and on social media.
At least two early COVID-19 cases were Harrison County residents who attended church together. “The actions were taken to help save lives after many cases and deaths were linked to mass gatherings, including more than 20 people who were connected to a super-spreader event, a revival, in Western Kentucky,” Staley noted.
Wednesday, a new Ipsos and Spectrum News poll<https://spectrumnews1.com/ky/lexington/news/2020/10/20/poll-reveals-problems-facing-kentucky> indicates Gov. Beshear earns favorable marks for his handling of COVID-19 with 66% of respondents approving and only 29% disapproving.
In addition, Democratic legislativce leaders chimed in on the political accusation.
“The report that the state Treasurer presented to legislators this morning doesn’t address the very real issues Kentucky faces during the ongoing pandemic. In fact, it fails to recognize that Gov. Beshear’s actions early on saved lives and that the legal principles have been upheld in court. The report doesn’t offer any new insights or relevant financial data, and it almost certainly cost more to produce than the expenses it reviewed. The report’s timing almost appears to be less about what happened months ago and more about two upcoming elections: the one on November 3rd and the one in November 2023. Kentuckians deserve better,” said House Democratic Leaders Joni Jenkins, Derrick Graham and Angie Hatton.
Among the findings Treasurer Ball disclosed to the Committee:
- The Governor’s Office, Kentucky State Police, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services encouraged and participated in the unconstitutional suppression of First Amendment exercise;
- The administration took actions directly related to assemblies, including directing law enforcement to monitor and shut down religious services in multiple counties;
- These actions were consistently followed by threats of criminal prosecution for failure to comply by law enforcement;
- The direct targeting of religious activity was furthered in the governor’s direct contact with county judges-executive asking them to monitor and enforce these measures at churches in their communities;
- License plate numbers and personal identifying information were recorded at church gatherings by law enforcement; the scouted information was then given to local health departments who issued self-quarantining demands to the church congregants, notifying the congregants that their activity was a misdemeanor violation;
- Law enforcement were instructed to take action against church congregants for “failure to disperse,” directed actions included possible misdemeanor violations and even arrest when they deemed it necessary in the surveillance of church gatherings;
- Physical enforcement was listed as a permissible measure to be taken if warranted in some cases to ensure church closure or prohibition of gathering;
- “Uniformed officers” were visibly present at or near parking lot entrances where congregants were worshiping;
- Stephen Stack, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, told a local health department official, “Sigh. No cure for ignorance or obstinacy,” in response to notification that congregants in a church had implemented a limited sign-up availability and socially-distanced seating plan for attending worship to prevent contagion; and
- Despite intense scrutiny of places of worship and enforcement against their assembly as directed by the Governor’s administration, the Kentucky Department for Public Health found only 1.1% of positive COVID-19 contractions came from places of worship:
- As of June 26, 2020 – 170 cases out of 14,859 were shown to be tied to places of worship.
Treasurer Ball looked into communications from local health departments, Kentucky State Police, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in response to complaints of enforcement at churches. The Kentucky State Treasurer has the authority and obligation to ensure all governmental expenditures are permitted under the Constitutions and laws of the United States and Kentucky.
The Kentucky Democratic Party said Ball’s investigation and findings amounted to hypocrisy and provided their own listed of “failures” on Ball’s part in her tenure as treasurer.
“State Treasurer Allison Ball is in her second term but until recently never expressed concern as the ‘Watchdog’ for Kentucky taxpayers. In fact, she didn’t think it was her job. Despite Matt Bevin’s well established record of using the state plane for political purposes and hiring close friends at exorbitant salaries, not once during the former administration did Treasurer Ball ever raise an eyebrow, let alone ‘investigate’ as the taxpayer ‘watchdog.’ Ball has a history of turning a blind eye to wasteful spending and serious conflicts of interest that benefited her own family,” the Democratic Party said.
“Now, two weeks before Election Day, Allison Ball claims to be looking out for Kentuckians as the taxpayer ‘watchdog.’ But her record reveals what today’s appearance before the interim judiciary committee is really about: partisan politics at its worst,” the party continued.
The Democratic Party released a memo it said “is intended to provide the proper context in which to view her appearance before the committee.” It includes:
Failed to investigate high salaries to Bevin’s friends during his administration
Matt Bevin made a habit of hiring his friends to high level positions in his administration. It includes his friend and campaign supporter Vivek Sarin at a $250,000 salary, his friend Charles Grindle at a $375,000 salary (the highest for his position in the U.S.), Ball’s husband at a $110,000 salary and “adoption czar” Dan Dumas, who was hired under a $240,000 contract that he quickly left and was given a $60,000 bonus as he left the job.
In all, 34 people in Bevin’s administration made more than his own $163,922 salary. At the time, the numbers shocked even Republican members of the state legislature.
Ball never once spoke up at this abuse of taxpayer money or questioned the salaries. Was it because her husband was a beneficiary of Bevin’s scheme to pay his friends high salaries?
Allison Ball Failed to investigate Governor Bevin’s flagrant use of the state plane for campaign purposes.
For four years, Matt Bevin used the state aircraft as his own personal travel service. In his first two years as governor, Bevin used a state plane for 67 trips to 29 states in 2 years, according to the Herald-Leader. The trips cost taxpayers $377,404.50 in 2016 and 2017. Many of the trips were for political or personal reasons.
The trips continued all the way up to when voters showed Bevin the door and elected Andy Beshear instead. Each time Bevin used a state aircraft it cost taxpayers at least $925 an hour.
Not once did Ball speak up about Bevin’s misuse of the state planes and his lack of transparency in using the aircraft. In fact, she said it wasn’t her job to do so when pushed on the issue last year.
Failed to investigate details around Braidy
Bevin helped secure $15 million of taxpayer investment on a secret project with no transparency. That project turned out to be Braidy Industries, which has been mired in delays, shady business dealings and recently fired its founder and CEO. Despite every delay and new revelation about the Braidy boondoggle, Ball never spoke up to defend taxpayer investment in the project.
She also remained quiet when taxpayer money was given to Enerblu, another project that promised jobs that never materialized. During an appearance on KET (1 hour, 7 minute, 30 second mark) last year, when pressed about not speaking up about the misuse of taxpayer money, Ball said it was important that “you stay in your lane.”
Once again, Ball’s newfound desire to be a taxpayer “watchdog” comes after she let the fox raid the henhouse for four years.
In 2019, Ball said it’s “illegal” and not her job to investigate use of taxpayer money
As Ball was running for re-election in 2019, she repeatedly said it was the job of the auditor, not the state treasurer, to investigate misuse of taxpayer money. Now, Ball has changed her mind just weeks before an election in a clearly partisan ploy.
In fact, Ball told the Herald-Leader “the state auditor is designated by the Kentucky Constitution to check spending by agencies of the state.” Not the treasurer.
When pushed to call out Bevin’s misuse of funds, Ball said doing so would make her an “activist.” Ball said it’s important for people to understand the role of the treasurer: “this job doesn’t say I don’t like where that’s going and I’m going to put a stop to it.”
It appears that Ball has forgotten her own role and forgotten to stay in her lane.
Conflict of Interest: Ball’s Husband took high paying jobs in Bevin administration
Ball’s husband, Asa James Swan, was hired in 2016 as chief of staff in the Transportation Cabinet at a $110,000 salary despite having no background in construction, engineering or other areas relevant to transportation. In fact, it appears his only qualification was being Allison Ball’s husband.
And in 2019, Swan was “promoted” by Bevin into a new position, “Chief Leadership Officer”. As a story in the Epoch Times notes, it is a position “rarely heard of in the public sector.” It never previously existed before in Kentucky state government and doesn’t exist now.
It appears Swan was paid six figures to go around the state and give speeches about “leadership.” Swan’s new position came despite not having the qualifications and is a previously unreported example of Bevin’s frequent policy of hiring friends to high salaries in his administration.
When KSP was sent to intimidate at a meeting of the Kentucky Retirement Systems, Ball said nothing
In May 2016, former governor Matt Bevin sent Kentucky State Police to a board meeting of the Kentucky Retirement Systems. Bevin sent police to the meeting in order to intimidate a board member into not showing up because Bevin did not like the board member. At the time, an advocacy group for retirees called Bevin’s actions a “ruthless and reckless abuse of executive power.”
Treasurer Ball remained silent about this use of state police to intimidate a KRS board trustee.