FRANKFORT — State Finance and Administration Secretary Jonathan Miller is soliciting campaign funds for Gov. Steve Beshear's re-election efforts, a move sharply criticized by the state Republican Party chairman.
Miller, who serves as the state's chief financial officer and oversees many state contracts, sent out e-mails last week and posted on his Facebook page invitations to a fund-raiser for Beshear Saturday in Nashville after the semifinal games of the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament.
The invitations suggested a minimum contribution of $500 to attend and a maximum contribution of $1,000.
Kentucky GOP chairman Steve Robertson said in an interview that Miller has "no business" raising campaign funds for Beshear.
"It concerns me when someone in the Beshear administration who handles contracts and other state business raises money for the governor," Robertson said. "It certainly is an ethically gray area."
Miller said in a written statement to the Herald-Leader his e-mails and Facebook message included a disclaimer asking anyone who may have a conflict of interest or who is statutorily prohibited from making campaign contributions to disregard the request.
He also said he sent the invitations from his home to "hundreds of his friends who had, over the years, requested to be included on personal or political notices."
Robertson said Miller's disclaimer does not excuse his action.
"Can you imagine someone who does business with the state getting one of these e-mails?" asked Robertson. "I think that would make them feel uneasy. Miller is saying, 'Please contribute if you can but if you can't, don't worry about it. I'm just the guy who handles the state's finances.'"
In his statement, Miller said "Gov. Beshear strongly enforces campaign finance law, as well as a firm ethics code, both of which I strictly adhere to. On my personal time, I am excited to support Gov. Beshear's re-election campaign."
John Steffen, executive director of the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission, said a June 2006 advisory from the ethics commission notes that non-merit, or politically appointed, state employees can participate in political activity on their own time.
But it said state officials cannot use state resources and the activity cannot cause a conflict with an employee's official position.
"State officials have to be careful not to use their official position" in raising campaign funds," Steffen said.
Chad Aull, political director for Beshear's 2011 re-election campaign, said Beshear is aware that Miller is involved in the re-election efforts.
"He's just like any other non-merit employee," Aull said. "I'm sure Secretary Miller is not misusing his office. We would be in trouble if he were."
In June 2006, then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher named his executive secretary of the cabinet — Murray businessman Robbie Rudolph — to be his 2007 running mate. Rudolph stepped down as finance secretary but stayed on as secretary of the entire cabinet.
Miller's e-mail and Facebook page listed the subject as "Coming to the SEC Tourney in Nashville? Support Gov. Beshear's re-election? Please join us March 13."
It asked the reader to reply to Jonathan.Miller@TheCompassionateCommunity.com.
Miller's messages said Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is hosting Saturday's fund-raiser. Bredesen's press secretary, Lydia Lenker, said Tennessee's Democratic governor will attend the Saturday event.
"He thinks Steve Beshear is a good governor and likes him very much," Lenker said.
The reception, Miller said in his messages, will feature special guest Joe B. Hall, who coached the University of Kentucky's 1978 national championship team, and several former UK players.
"We will also be announcing the participation of several Nashville-area celebrities from the entertainment industry," Miller said.
The reception is to take place from 6-8 p.m. CST at the law office of Bone McAllester Norton near the Tennessee Capitol.
Miller's Facebook message noted that it was paid for by Beshear's 2011 campaign for governor.
His disclaimer said any state worker who received the solicitation should disregard it. It also said the solicitation is "expressly void" if received by anyone who is prohibited by law from contributing or if the solicitation would create any impropriety or a conflict of interest affecting operations of the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet or Kentucky state government.