FRANKFORT — Optometrists have been continuing their generosity to Kentucky politicians, contributing nearly $150,000 to the two main gubernatorial candidates, campaign finance reports show.
Those reports filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance show optometrists also contributed $36,000 to candidates for attorney general, state auditor, secretary of state and agriculture commissioner.
"Our members have a long-standing history of supporting candidates," said Darlene Eakin, executive director of the Kentucky Optometric Association. "They're exercising their privileges as Americans to participate in the political process."
Since the governor's race got under way last year, donors listing their occupations as optometrists have given $88,350 to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and $59,850 to Republican challenger David Williams, but none to independent gubernatorial candidate Gatewood Galbraith.
They also gave $16,000 to Democratic state auditor candidate Adam Edelen, $9,260 to Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, $6,650 to Republican attorney general candidate Todd P'Pool, $2,600 to Democratic secretary of state candidate Alison Grimes, $1,050 to Republican agriculture commissioner candidate James Comer and $200 to Democratic agriculture commissioner candidate Robert Farmer.
The optometrists' political contributions came under a spotlight earlier this year when the legislature speedily passed a bill allowing them to perform some types of laser eye surgeries that had traditionally been performed only by ophthalmologists in Kentucky. That legislative action came after a year in which members of the profession increased their political giving from less than $50,000 in 2009 to more than $250,000 in 2010.
Physicians charge that optometrists, who aren't medical doctors, won't receive the extensive training that ophthalmologists undergo. But optometrists contend that allowing them to perform a variety of simple procedures, such as removing non-malignant growths around the eyes or treating glaucoma, would be especially beneficial to rural residents who don't have ophthalmologists in their communities.
Optometrists still cannot perform more complicated procedures such as LASIK surgery used to correct poor vision.