Gov. Steve Beshear plans to host a fund-raiser July 21 at the Governor's Mansion to help raise $30,000 needed to fly his daughter-in-law and her horse across the Atlantic Ocean to compete in the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials in England.
In an invitation to the cocktail party, called "Bits 'n Bubbles," Beshear asks for $150 per person or $250 per couple, to be paid to the non-profit American Horse Trials Foundation. Donors also can send money directly to Brickland Farm in Somerset, Va., owned by Jeff and Emily Beshear, the Democratic governor's son and daughter-in-law.
Co-hosting the party will be first lady Jane Beshear and Alston Kerr, a Beshear campaign donor whom he put on the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, where she currently serves as chairwoman. Confirmations are to be sent to Susan Rieber, the first lady's chief of staff.
It's unclear how many people received the invitations or if the guest list includes state contractors, lobbyists and others with a business interest in the Beshear administration.
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"This is a private event, sponsored by the Beshears and John and Alston Kerr," Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said Thursday. "The event will be paid for personally by the Beshears and the Kerrs, and no state dollars are involved. The guests are friends of the family and horse enthusiasts who are excited to support Emily in this endeavor."
The fund-raiser raises ethical questions because it provides "yet another way for special interests seeking influence to pay the governor," outside of his usual campaign and inaugural funds, said Richard Beliles, chairman of watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky.
"I wish the young lady well in her competition," Bel iles said. "But I have to question the governor using the assets of state government in this manner, raising money from the public to benefit his family. It's not a crime or anything, but it's questionable."
Emily Beshear finished 20th at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington last spring. In September, she wants to compete at Blenheim Palace, home of the 11th Duke of Marlborough, bringing along her mount Here's To You, also known as "Quincy."
"But they can't get there without help," the invitation says. "Let's help make Emily's dream a reality."
In an interview Thursday, Emily Beshear said she's raising part of her estimated $30,000 travel expense with fund-raisers and a raffle at her Virginia horse farm and in Washington, D.C. The party at the Governor's Mansion in Frankfort only has to raise a share of the total, she said.
"I know that I have a lot of family support and I have a lot of friends and family in Kentucky, too, so it made sense to hold an event there," she said. "The mansion is a lovely location, and a lot of people haven't had a chance to see it."
State ethics law prohibits public servants from using their positions to personally benefit themselves or their families. But the law does allow the governor — who for 2011 reported a gross household income of $197,154 — to use the Governor's Mansion to raise money for charitable organizations, such as the American Horse Trials Foundation.
Legal or not, critics said the fund-raiser looks bad.
"We're seeing a troubling pattern from this governor, including his frequent use of state aircraft to fly his family to sporting events and for other personal trips. Now he's using the Governor's Mansion to raise money for his daughter-in-law, despite the fact that he does pretty well financially himself," said Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky.
"It would be different if this was a fund-raiser to give a once-in-a-lifetime experience to disadvantaged children, as compared to his own children," Robertson said. "But this governor seems more concerned with his own personal comfort than the well-being of others."