Politics & Government

How much is spent lobbying Kentucky’s executive branch? This bill demands an answer.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said he was “blown away” by revelations in two recent high-profiled public corruptions cases that revealed lax oversight of those who lobby the state’s executive branch of government.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that individuals lobby the executive branch just as they lobby the legislative branch,” said Stivers in a floor speech during the first week of this year’s law-making session. “But the requirements for reporting your fees as you lobby the executive branch are virtually non-existent and nowhere as stringent as that we require for lobbying us.”

Stivers, R-Manchester, has filed a bill to give the public more information about lobbyists of the state’s executive branch. He called it “a starting point, truly to bring transparency to the process where there are hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts and bids.”

Businesses often spend more than $20 million a year lobbying Kentucky lawmakers, but no similar number is counted for executive branch lobbyists, who are far more numerous.

He said Senate Bill 6 was prompted by revelations in the federal government’s criminal cases against James Sullivan and Tim Longmeyer.

Sullivan was sentenced Thursday to two years and nine months in federal prison for giving Longmeyer, who was then the top deputy to Attorney General Andy Beshear, a $1,000 bribe in March 2016 in an attempt to get business from Beshear’s office for law firms to handle civil lawsuits. No evidence has been presented that Beshear, a Democrat who is running for governor, did anything wrong.

Sullivan allegedly bribed Longmeyer on other occasions when he headed the Personnel Cabinet for former Gov. Steve Beshear, the attorney general’s father.

Longmeyer pleaded guilty to taking payoffs in return for getting state business for a Lexington company called MC Squared. He was sentenced in September 2016 to 70 months in federal prison. He admitted receiving more than $200,000 in kickbacks.

Stivers said he is “truly not trying to cast stones at anyone” with his bill and that he considered it “a starting point” to provide more transparency on executive branch lobbying.

Andy Beshear “supports this and any other legislation that will provide more transparency and accountability for those either in or trying to influence state government,” said spokesman Terry Sebastian.

The five-page bill, which is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, would regulate executive branch lobbyists similar to the way legislative branch lobbyists are regulated.

Under the bill, executive branch lobbyists would have to file with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission their payment and could not work for any type of contingency fee.

Katie Gabhart, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, said lobbyists now have to fill out a registration form with their name, contact information and the name and information of their clients. The registration forms are public records and the commission keeps a list of registered lobbyists online.

The commission defines an executive branch lobbyist as a person engaged or employed for compensation by an entity attempting to influence an executive agency decision involving the expenditure of state funds. There are several thousand registered.

Gabhart said a state law, KRS 11A..236, already prohibits people from lobbying “for compensation that is contingent in any way on the outcome of an executive agency decision.”

But she added that Stivers’ bill would be helpful because it clarifies that a lobbyist’s pay could not be based on the awarding of a government contract or equal a certain percentage of an awarded government contract.

“I personally feel that existing law prohibits any contingency fee for executive lobbyists but the clarification in Sen. Stivers’ bill might put them more on notice regarding executive contracts and that would be a good thing,” said Gabhart.

Since 1993, state law specifically bans legislative branch lobbyists from working on contingency fees of any kind, said John Schaaf, executive director of the Legislative Branch Ethics Commission.

“The idea was to prevent lobbyists from sharing their fees with any state official,” Schaaf said.

Richard Beliles, chairman of the citizen watchdog group Common Cause Kentucky, said Stivers’ bill is “long overdue.”

“I’ve always felt we had little or no information about executive branch lobbying,” said Beliles, who started lobbying in 1988 for Common Cause. “I like this bill.”

He added: “With it, we may find more things are going wrong in executive branch lobbying than what has been found over the years in legislative lobbying.”

Stivers did not point to any one incident in the Longmeyer or Sullivan cases that his bill might have prevented, but he said the state “deals with big money in its decisions and contracts. More transparency about the executive branch lobbying involved might have made the players in the cases more careful about what they were doing.”

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