Gray, Newberry trade accusations about accepting donations from water company

Its link to water company turns donations into ammo for both sides

amead@herald-leader.comOctober 21, 2010 

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Mayor Jim Newberry spoke to Charles Logan, left and Dolores Gumm at a Thursday Night Live concert at Cheapside Park on Sept. 2. Recent changes downtown have included the Cheapside area.

PABLO ALCALA

For the second day in a row, money from Lexington's largest law firm fueled arguments Wednesday between the two men who want to be the city's mayor.

State campaign finance records, meanwhile, show that Vice Mayor Jim Gray has received contributions from the Stoll Keenon Ogden political action committee — the same PAC from which he has criticized Newberry for accepting money.

Also, a document that Newberry cited Tuesday that detailed some of Gray's contributions from attorneys in the firm was produced by Newberry's chief of staff, Shaye Rabold.

Without naming her, Gray mentioned Rabold's work on the document at a forum Wednesday, calling it "wasting city dollars." Rabold responded that she did the work on her own time with her own computer, which is permitted.

The law firm is being drawn into the race because Kentucky American Water is among its clients, and both candidates are trying to distance themselves from the utility's 37 percent rate increase. The utility recently began charging under the new rate, which it says is needed to pay for a new treatment plant. The state Public Service Commission is expected to rule soon on how much of that increase the utility gets to keep.

Gray received a total of $2,000 from the Stoll Keenon Ogden PAC in his unsuccessful 2002 mayoral race and the 2006 race for an at-large Urban County Council race that put him in the vice mayor's chair.

The PAC gave $3,950 to Newberry for his campaigns in 2006 and this year.

Gray included the firm's PAC money in a list of $28,000 in contributions he said Newberry has received "from the folks at Kentucky American."

That number, according to the Gray campaign, also includes money from Kentucky American employees, former employees, lobbyists, former lobbyists, spouses and others who contributed to Newberry's campaigns in 2006 and this year.

The Rabold document Newberry mentioned Tuesday listed Stoll Keenon Odgen attorneys who had given more than $7,200 to Gray. Those were individual contributions, not PAC money. The Gray campaign shot back Wednesday, saying Newberry had received $20,000 in individual contributions from members of the firm.

Gray appeared to be surprised when Newberry brought up the issue at a forum Tuesday. It was Gray who brought it up Wednesday.

"Despite Mr. Newberry's creative accounting, I haven't taken a dime from the water company," Gray said.

Lance Blanford, Newberry's campaign manager, said the PAC money tells a different story.

"They included PAC contributions in our figure, so by their logic ... then they're receiving money from Kentucky American as well," he said.

Bill Lear, the law firm's chairman, said Stoll Keenon Ogden has more than 70 lawyers and many clients. It gives money to a variety of candidates, he said.

Members of the firm will suggest a candidate to receive PAC money, he said, or a candidate may ask for a contribution. The money can go to a candidate who supports the issues of a client, but that doesn't always happen, Lear said.

Sometimes, because members ask the PAC to help opposing candidates, the money will go to both sides.

He would not discuss the method used to decide who gets what.

"It is not appropriate to assume that any particular contribution is related to any particular issue, because there are lots of them that are of interest to our clients and our lawyers," Lear said.

Reach Andy Mead at (859) 231-3319 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3319.

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