Politics & Government

Beshear pledges leftover campaign funds to help Democrats in legislative races

Gov. Steve Beshear has pledged to give $1 million to Democratic state legislative races in 2012 to keep his party in control of the House and wrest the Senate from Republican hands.

Beshear told House Democrats of his forthcoming largesse during a luncheon last week at the Governor's Mansion, according to lawmakers who attended. The governor, who easily won re-election in November, said leftover campaign funds would be forwarded to House and Senate races.

"People were very pleased," said state Rep. Susan Wes trom, D-Lexington.

"From everything we're hearing, (U.S. Senate Republican Leader) Mitch McConnell is making sure that we're all going to have a competitive race next year," Westrom said. "I think our members are taking it very seriously. I see people out raising funds earlier than ever."

All 100 House seats and half of the 38 Senate seats are up for grabs this year. Democrats hold a 59-seat majority in the House; Republicans hold a 22-seat majority in the Senate, not counting one independent senator who caucuses with the GOP.

Beshear's campaign raised more than $10 million for the gubernatorial election. Last week, it reported having $157,245 on hand. The Kentucky Democratic Party reported having $662,354 on hand.

Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson and Democratic Party spokesman Matt Erwin declined to comment on the governor's pledge to lawmakers. If Beshear has excess campaign cash after all bills are paid, he will give it to the Democratic Party, as allowed by law, Richardson said.

"It is up to the governor to decide how to proceed in this matter, but we would hope he and the Democratic Party would protect the House's Democratic majority and expand upon it next year," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

"I want to note that the House Democrats have $600,000 in the bank with all bills paid and that we expect to raise at least as much next year, giving us $1.2 million overall even before we get any contribution from the governor," Stumbo said.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Beshear said he won't recruit Democratic challengers for incumbent Republican lawmakers. In the past, Beshear's relationship with the Senate GOP majority grew especially testy as he involved himself in specific Senate races, usually unsuccessfully.

But Senate Democrats expect they'll see financial aid.

"I think we all know the governor has some money left over, and he will continue to raise money, and he will use it to assist Democratic legislative campaigns," said Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester.

It's unlikely the governor will require lawmakers to support his individual initiatives, such as a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling, in order to get campaign funds, Palmer said.

"I don't anticipate the governor doing that," Palmer said. "I think the governor is looking for opportunities to win races."