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Lobbyist had easy Capitol access

Gov. Steve Beshear's chief of staff, Adam Edelen, repeatedly met at the state Capitol last year with top Frankfort lobbyist Bob Babbage, his friend and business partner, according to state e-mails.

Babbage brought in a variety of lobbying clients to tell Edelen what they want from the Beshear administration. Some appointments were scheduled in advance; others were casual "drop-ins."

"Adam, are you going to be here after 1 p.m. today?" Edelen aide Will Carle wrote the chief of staff on Nov. 5. "Bob Babbage wants to stop by for about five minutes to introduce you to some tax people."

The Herald-Leader asked for the e-mails of Edelen and Carle that involved Babbage or his clients under the Kentucky Open Records Act.

The Herald-Leader reported Jan. 1 that Babbage and Edelen were partners in a Bourbon County land deal — they since have dissolved that company — and joint owners of a downtown Lexington condo unit.

In that story, Edelen acknowledged that he and Babbage have personal ties. However, he said that Babbage "is treated just like any other lobbyist who comes in," Edelen said. "They're directed to the agency heads who are directly responsible for that given policy area."

Beshear spokesman Jay Blanton on Monday said that Edelen sits down with Babbage and Babbage's clients to discuss what they want. But Edelen has promised Babbage nothing at these meetings, and he also welcomes other lobbyists, Blanton said.

"Adam's job, a big part of it is to play traffic cop," Blanton said. "He takes meetings with people. He hears what their issues are, and he gets them to the right people."

The e-mails do not reveal which of Babbage's clients attended the meetings or what was said.

Speaking through Blanton, Edelen said he could recall only a few facts about the encounters. For example, he said, in a series of sit-downs last October, Babbage's clients included Motorola, which sells public-safety radios, and a company with an interest in the state's prisons.

Babbage, a former Kentucky Democratic Party chairman, did not return calls seeking comment.

The Kentucky Republican Party chairman, Steve Robertson, said he is skeptical that every lobbyist enjoys the same open-door policy at the governor's office that Babbage does.

"Obviously, Adam has a personal stake in Bob and vice-versa. But Adam also needs to be a fair gatekeeper for the governor," Robertson said. "He's supposed to be focused on the people's business."

Even as Babbage lobbied the Beshear administration last year, he and Edelen sent a stream of unhappy e-mails to each other — and to another man, Ralph Coldiron — about a large house the men built in Bourbon County for which they could not find a buyer. They finally sold it in December for $530,000, far less than they wanted.

Coldiron in particular complained in e-mails throughout the fall that he was hurting financially and lacked a steady source of income. "I need to keep cash coming in the door," Coldiron wrote to Edelen on Oct. 6.

Weeks later, Beshear appointed Coldiron to a political job in the state Office of Homeland Security and arranged for an immediate pay raise from $80,000 to $100,000 a year.

"Thank you very much!!!!" Coldiron wrote to Edelen on Oct. 22, after Edelen confirmed that he had signed the hiring paperwork.

But Edelen's friendship and business ties with Coldiron were not the reason he was hired or given the $20,000 raise, Blanton said Monday. Coldiron said the same thing, adding that his e-mails to Edelen were only to hurry the paperwork along.

"To say that my salary had anything to do with my real-estate investment is ridiculous and absurd," Coldiron said.