MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA/AP) - Gov. Robert Bentley's personal attorney confirmed to WSFA 12 News Wednesday afternoon that nearly $9,000 of the governor's campaign funds were used to pay legal fees for Rebekah Mason, a former political adviser whom Bentley is accused of having an affair.
Attorney Bill Athanas of Waller, Landsden, Dortch & Davis, LLP in Birmingham confirmed by email late Wednesday afternoon the campaign payment in question was made to Copeland, Franco to cover Mason's legal fees.
The governor's office has not issued an official statement on this revelation, though we are seeking reaction.
Coincidentally, an advisory opinion regarding campaign funds was released by the Alabama Ethics Commission Wednesday during a scheduled meeting. Some attorneys are interpreting this advisory opinion to limit the use of campaign funds - for legals to the office holder.
The total cost in legal bills from the campaign fund for 2016 came to more than $320,000, which leaves the campaign fund nearly depleted. Bentley, who is term-limited, reported loaning his campaign $50,000, enabling him to end the year with a $25,000 balance.
A 2016 annual campaign expense report shows Bentley sank hundreds of thousands of dollars from his leftover fundraiser account into legal fees as he faced an impeachment push and an ethics complaint after he was accused of having an affair with Mason. The governor has acknowledged personal mistakes but maintained he did nothing legally wrong.
Campaign filings show between Oct. 2015 and Oct. 2016, Bentley's campaign paid a total of $284,796.17 to the law firm or Melton, Espy and Williams, PC. Attorney Joe Espy defended Bentley's campaign in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Sec. Spencer Collier.
Court documents and interviews report Espy in high-level meetings with Bentley prior to Collier's termination. A one-time payment of $50,000 was also made to the firm Waller, Landsden, Dortch & Davis, LLP, which replaced Espy's firm.
WSFA 12 News left messages for Mason and her attorney, Bobby Segall, on the legal fees paid to Segall's law firm. No response has been given at this point.