Gov. Bentley lawyers say campaign payment to Rebekah Mason’s lawyers was legal

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Lawyers for Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told the Alabama Ethics Commission Friday that it was lawful for Bentley to use campaign funds to pay legal bills for his former top political advisor and alleged mistress Rebekah Mason.

Bentley’s attorney Bill Athanas sent the ethics commission a letter arguing Mason was paid by the campaign while working as Bentley’s senior political advisor.

The issue arose this week after Athanas disclosed that the Bentley campaign paid a Montgomery law firm $8,912 in January 2016 for legal work on Mason’s behalf.

Mason resigned from her role as senior political advisor last spring following allegations that she and Bentley had an affair and that she was the “de facto governor.” Those allegations were made by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier who sued Bentley and Mason for wrongful termination.

Another former close aide to Bentley, Ray Lewis, the former head of Bentley’s security detail, also sued Bentley and Mason.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, whose office oversees Alabama elections, told WHNT New 19 Thursday that his office could find no place in the Alabama Code where it was a permissible expense.

The Ethics Commission issued an opinion Wednesday, without naming Bentley, that argued campaign funds couldn’t be spent for “personal use.”

But Athanas argued the commission has said expenses can be paid if the bill would not have existed, “but for” the person’s status as a candidate or office holder.

Bentley’s lawyers argued that legal bills are generally not considered a personal expense and that Mason’s expense only occurred because Bentley was in office.

Athanas also noted that while Alabama case law didn’t have a similar situation that had been ruled on previously, federal elections officials had allowed members of Congress to pay legal bills for campaign staffers who were caught up in investigations of the member of Congress.

Bentley’s attorney closed by offering to repay the money if the commission disagreed with the governor’s reading of the law.

“Based on [the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act] and the [federal advisory opinions], we believe that the expenditure was entirely appropriate and consistent with applicable law. In the event the Commission reaches a contrary conclusion, we are prepared to reverse the payment and have the funds returned to the Campaign,” Athanas wrote.