Politics & Government

John Kemper wins Republican nomination for state auditor

John T. Kemper III
John T. Kemper III

Kentucky Republicans on Tuesday chose Lexington developer John T. Kemper III as their nominee to be the state's elected Auditor of Public Accounts.

Kemper, 47, is in personal bankruptcy and preparing to lose his home in a foreclosure auction following the failure of his construction business. He defeated state Rep. Addia Wuchner of Florence.

Kemper, who last year unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Congress in Central Kentucky, did not return phone messages left Tuesday night.

Kemper will face Democratic nominee Adam Edelen of Lexington in the fall. Edelen, 36, a former chief of staff to Gov. Steve Beshear, was unopposed in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

The current auditor, Crit Luallen, a Democrat, is finishing her second term, the limit allowed by law. Voters have elected state auditors since 1850 to monitor how public money is spent and how public agencies function. Some of Luallen's high-profile audits have led to criminal convictions. Luallen has endorsed Edelen, her fellow Democrat.

Edelen holds a tremendous financial advantage. Last week, he reported raising $431,995 in campaign donations so far, compared with Kemper's $22,657, and far more than Luallen raised for either of her primaries.

But much of Edelen's money comes from well-connected insiders that an auditor is responsible for investigating. They include Beshear's political appointees, state and local elected officials, Frankfort lobbyists and highway contractors.

For example, one Edelen donor is Joseph Evans, an executive with James River Coal Co. of Richmond, Va. Luallen issued a critical audit in February that said the state broke the law by giving public land to James River Coal at the company's request so it could mine under an existing highway. The state has acknowledged errors in that case.

"It looks like Adam's political connections are paying off for him now. But it might not pay off for the public if he's elected auditor and he's way too close to his donors," said Richard Beliles, state chairman of Common Cause, a watchdog group.

"To have raised nearly a half-million dollars for this office already — good gosh, it's going to be difficult for him to investigate people if they've given him money and he's counting on their support again in the future," Beliles said. "Couldn't the Democratic Party have come up with more of an outside reformer for this race?"

Edelen said he would confront government corruption and inefficiency regardless of who might get angry with him. The fact that he helped run the Beshear administration wouldn't soften his reviews of any state agency if Beshear is re-elected this fall, he added.

"No contributor will get one ounce of fear or favor from me in the office of state auditor," Edelen said. "I'm going to continue Crit Luallen's tradition of being tough but fair."

In 2009, while Edelen was the governor's chief of staff, the Herald-Leader reported that he, lobbyist Bob Babbage and a man named Ralph Coldiron were partners in a real estate business that Babbage had failed to disclose as required to state ethics officials.

Coldiron — after telling Edelen in an email that "I need to keep cash coming in the door" — was given an $80,000-a-year political appointment by the governor, and then a $20,000 raise, which violated state pay procedures.

Following the Herald-Leader's stories, Coldiron resigned from state government, Babbage corrected his ethics disclosures, and Edelen and Babbage dissolved their partnership. Emails showed that Edelen met at the Capitol with Babbage and his lobbying clients while the two men did business together privately.

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