- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s largest and most influential lobbyist organization says it opposes a judge’s ruling allowing lobbyists to give money to political candidates.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday it is urging the Kentucky Board of Elections and the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission to appeal U.S. District Judge William Berlesman’s June 6 ruling that dismantled several of the ethics laws that regulate contact between lobbyists and lawmakers.

Specifically, Berlesman said it was now OK for lobbyists who are paid to influence state legislation to donate money to political candidates. He also said it was OK for lobbyists to buy gifts for lawmakers and to ask others to donate to their campaigns.

The legislature passed the ethics laws, considered to be among the toughest in the country, after a scandal in the early 1990s that saw 22 lawmakers and lobbyists charged with giving and taking bribes relating to legislation affecting the horse industry. The FBI codename for the investigation was Boptrot, an acronym combining the abbreviated name of a legislative committee with the word “trot.”

“Kentucky has strong ethics laws which have guided us in the years since BOPTROT, kept our political system relatively clean and discouraged a ‘pay to play’ mentality,” Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson said in a news release. “It would be a disservice to the citizens of the Commonwealth to roll these reforms back. We urge the defendants of this lawsuit to file an appeal to maintain ethical boundaries in our legislative process.”

Legislative Ethics Commission counsel Kara Daniel said the commission has not decided whether to appeal.

Records show the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce spent more than $126,000 lobbying the state legislature during its three-month session earlier this year, the most of any organization. It was also one of the chamber’s most successful legislative sessions, as the new Republican majority passed laws banning mandatory union dues and abolishing laws setting wages for public construction projects. Both items were priorities of the chamber’s members.

If the ruling stands, it could cost the chamber’s lobbyists during election season. The state has 138 lawmakers, of which at 119 are on the ballot every two years. Lawmakers recently increased the maximum donation to $2,000 per candidate per election. That means including primaries, people can donate a maximum of $4,000 per candidate.

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