It's not good news that Kentucky's ethics laws are being violated but at least we can be thankful they exist and are being enforced.
Monday the Executive Branch Ethics Commission announced the two largest fines in its history — $10,000 each — assessed against two state employees who had used their positions to promote their personal financial interests.
That same day the commission brought charges against a longtime political insider for using his position as second in command at the Justice Cabinet to solicit money from cabinet employees for the re-election campaign of Gov. Steve Beshear.
According to the allegations, Charles Geveden Sr. was so systematic in his efforts that he had a list of employees with their salaries and recommended donation levels. The charges further say that Geveden improperly obtained the private phone numbers of employees and, during the work day, gave a subordinate a list and instructed that individual to solicit contributions.
Geveden has acknowledged that he asked for campaign contributions but said there was no pressure involved. "I just called and asked them to make a contribution and those that did did and those that didn't didn't and that was fine with me," he told a reporter.
Let's see, the second highest guy in your cabinet has your private phone number, cites your salary and asks you to give a specific amount to the governor's campaign, and there's no pressure? Please.
At any rate, Geveden should know better. He's not new to government or the ways of Frankfort. His father was a member of the state legislature, as he was himself until he was unseated in 2004. He chaired the House State Government Committee while in office and, since losing his seat, worked under Greg Stumbo in the attorney general's office as executive director of the office of criminal appeals before joining the Justice Cabinet. One of his sons is a Democratic political consultant. Another, Charles Jr., has himself run afoul of state ethics laws for using his position in the Transportation Cabinet to get special tickets and parking passes to NASCAR races and staying free at a state park on the way.
Kentucky had limited official interest in ethics until 20 years ago when federal prosecutors indicted and convicted a fair number of public officials and others for buying and selling favors and votes. Called Operation BOPTROT, that wake-up call gave rise to a renewed interest in operating state government in a manner that is more responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens and taxpayers rather than the needs of those who run the government.
So, there's been some progress. But this week's news only reaffirms the need to remain vigilant. Corruption is one of Kentucky's greatest and most enduring ills. The actual and alleged offenses indicate a culture of government as a free- market enterprise. The winners — whether of elections or simply just people who got certain jobs — have a broad sense of entitlement as opposed to a sense of obligation as a public servant.
There's no indication that Beshear was aware of Geveden's activities but, again, there's a cultural question. How could any highly-placed, experienced government executive be confused about whether it's OK to ask public employees for campaign contributions?