Gov. Steve Beshear has appointed Danny Ross, who was charged with felony campaign-finance violations during Gov. Paul Patton's administration, to a $60,000-a-year job as policy adviser to Labor Secretary J.R. Gray.
”Those issues are in the past. We've moved forward,“ Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton said Thursday.
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In 1998, a grand jury under the direction of then-Attorney General Ben Chandler indicted Ross and several other Patton allies, including two Louisville Teamsters and the governor's chief of staff, Andrew ”Skipper“ Martin.
They were accused of steering labor union funds to Patton's 1995 Democratic gubernatorial campaign in excess of fund-raising limits. Patton narrowly defeated Larry Forgy, his Republican opponent, and almost immediately, questions were raised about the legality of some union activities in Louisville.
Ross, a former union steward, is half-brother to House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville.
In a highly controversial move, Patton pardoned all four defendants toward the end of his term in 2003 before a trial could be scheduled, after many appeals and delays.
Greg Stumbo hired Ross as labor liaison -- the same title he held under Patton -- in 2004 after he was elected attorney general.
”Danny Ross is still a very respected figure in the labor movement in this state,“ Blanton said Thursday. ”He has decades of experience.“
Ross could not be reached at the Labor Cabinet on Thursday. Gray, the labor secretary, was traveling to Western Kentucky for the Fancy Farm political picnic and could not be immediately reached.
Richard Beliles, chairman of watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky, filed one of the ethics complaints regarding fund-raising after the 1995 election. On Thursday, Beliles said he questions the wisdom of Beshear's decision.
”I don't know this fellow. He may have the experience they're looking for,“ Beliles said. ”But I would wonder if there aren't other good labor union people out there, who are devoted to the cause, who don't have these problems.“
Kentucky Republican Party chairman Steve Robertson went further, saying the appointment is ”disrespectful to working people who are members of their unions.
”What Gov. Beshear is saying is, "This is the best that we can do (at the Labor Cabinet), this guy who was indicted for election fraud,'“ Robertson said.
”When Steve Beshear was a candidate, he promised to set a higher bar in Frankfort for ethical standards. This is just one more example of him failing to do that.“