Son's fund-raising mars Beshear legacy

Andy Beshear is a Louisville attorney and candidate for Kentucky attorney general.
Andy Beshear is a Louisville attorney and candidate for Kentucky attorney general.

Poor Andy Beshear. More than a year away from being sworn in to an office he hasn't even won, and already his integrity in that office is open to question because of his unprecedented fund-raising.

Not to mention the shadow cast on the administration of his father, Gov. Steve Beshear, as state contractors, lobbyists and appointees have lined up at 87 fund-raising events to give almost $1.5 million to the son's campaign for attorney general.

(By comparison, Jack Conway spent less than $1.9 million total to get elected attorney general twice.)

Inevitably, the appearance is created that donors to the younger Beshear are out to get something from the father's administration.

As the Herald-Leader's John Cheves reported, this situation is especially fraught with potential conflicts, not just because a governor's son is a candidate, but also because the younger Beshear is running for a post in which he could well be called upon to challenge or even prosecute some of his backers.

The elder Beshear's legacy will likely be scuffed by the younger Beshear's taking advantage of his father's fund-raising coattails.

No one has accused either Beshear of breaking campaign finance laws. They're playing by the rules of the game.

It's the rules of the game that are the problem and need to change.

The U.S. Supreme Court has dismantled so many traditional limits on money in elections that readers might be under the impression that campaign finance reform is dead.

Not true. Fourteen states provide public financing for the campaigns of some or all of their state offices, including lawmakers and judges.

In exchange for candidates voluntarily limiting spending, taxpayers put up part or all of the cost of running. In many cases, the state matches money raised by candidates, who, under such systems, raise smaller amounts from more donors.

Public financing greatly reduces the appearance and risk of government contracts and favors going to the highest bidders.

And it wouldn't even be new to Kentucky, which held publicly financed elections for governor in 1995 and 1999 before Republicans defeated what they cynically dubbed "welfare for politicians."

In fact, publicly financed elections would be a bargain for taxpayers who could have more confidence that government decisions were being made for the right reasons.

If bringing back publicly financed elections is a bridge too far, the legislature could at least prohibit political contributions from state contractors to candidates running for constitutional offices and the General Assembly. No one could call that welfare for politicians.