TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Local News

August 2, 2011

Gov. Beshear accused of strong-arm tactics

CORBIN — By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT—The Republican Party of Kentucky and an employee of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet are alleging Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration strong-armed some state employees for contributions to Beshear’s re-election campaign.

Dr. Rodney Young, a 27-year state employee who works for the Department of Juvenile Justice, delivered a signed letter Monday to RPK Chairman Steve Robertson claiming the Cabinet’s Deputy Secretary, Charles Geveden, pressured him and other state employees for contributions to Beshear’s re-election campaign. The letter was also delivered to Attorney General Jack Conway’s office and Robertson filed complaints with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

The complaints cite a December 2010 CNHI News Service story about similar complaints by non-merit — or politically appointed — state employees that they felt pressured to attend a Frankfort fundraiser for Beshear shortly before Christmas. A spokesman for Beshear’s campaign told CNHI News at that time no state employees should feel any pressure to contribute to Beshear’s campaign which “strictly follows all campaign laws.”

Matt Erwin, the newly named spokesman for Beshear’s campaign, called the complaints “gutter politics” by Republican David Williams whose campaign, Erwin said, is “in free fall.” Erwin said the complaint comes only 24 hours after a Bluegrass Poll showed Williams trailing Beshear badly in their race for governor.

Later in the day, the Kentucky Democratic Party filed its own ethics complaint against Williams, alleging he failed to report income from gambling winnings on his legislative disclosure form. Williams reported gambling losses on tax returns several years ago — but can only claim deductions for losses if he made more than he lost for the year.

Young’s letter lists other employees who were also pressured to contribute, including Dr. Patrick Sheridan. CN/2 Pure Politics and RPK’s Robertson later Monday said Sheridan confirmed that he was called at home by Geveden, asking him to contribute to the campaign. Geveden was out of his office and not available for comment Monday and multiple calls to a spokeswoman at the cabinet were not returned.

The December CNHI news story also said employees were called at home by supervisors or others in their cabinet or department and encouraged to attend the Frankfort fundraiser. The employees are non-merit employees appointed by the governor. Merit employees enjoy civil service protections which the appointed employees do not. But it is against state law to target even non-merit employees unless they are solicited through a larger solicitation of groups not limited to state employees.

Kerri Richardson, Beshear’s communications director, declined to comment on the complaint, referring questions to Erwin at the campaign.

Alison Gardner, spokeswoman for Conway, confirmed the office was given a copy of the letter.

“We received Mr. Young’s letter,” she said. “We are handling it according to the investigative protocol of this office.”

Robertson’s complaint includes Young’s letter, copies of Beshear’s KREF campaign finance reports which Robertson said contain more than 610 listings of contributions from state employees and their spouses totaling more than $400,000, and a copy of the CNHI News Service article from last December. Robertson called on Beshear to return those contributions.

“Steve Beshear promised Kentuckians he would require his top officials to undergo extensive ethics training and that they would follow the law,” said Robertson. “He said the buck stops with him and asked us all to hold him accountable. That is exactly what we intend to do.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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