Democrat-heavy college boards of directors go against Kentucky law


Alix Mattingly / KyCIR

Kentucky State Capitol

When the boards of trustees of public universities in Kentucky became overburdened with Republican Party members in 2007, former Attorney General Greg Stumbo found a “clear violation” of the law and took the extraordinary step of filing a complaint against the law. the person who made the appointments – the former governor. Ernie Fletcher.

Fletcher lost his bid for re-election that year, and the man who beat him, current Governor Steve Beshear, settled the case. Beshear has agreed to follow laws requiring state college councils to reflect the ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans in Kentucky.

Eight years later, under Beshear, the boards of directors of Kentucky’s three largest colleges are even more politically out of whack.

An analysis from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found that these boards were overloaded with Democrats. Not only that, the current boards of the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky, and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System are dominated by party members who have helped fund the campaigns of the man who appointed them. – Beshear.

Party affiliation table

Alexandra Kanik / KyCIR

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“I think they are selling access to seats on these very prestigious boards,” said Steve Robertson, incumbent president of the Kentucky Republican Party. “Unless you support his (Beshear’s) personal political endeavors, you have no chance of serving an institution that you might have a very strong affinity for. You have to pay to play.

Robertson acknowledged that college boards were out of political balance under Fletcher, but said the “deviations” were not as big as they are now.

Across the country, trustees of state universities are prestigious positions that are often held by political supporters. Kentucky law attempts to limit this. It requires governor appointees to state university boards to reflect the ratio of registered Democrats and Republicans in the state – 52.9% Democrats, 39.1% Republicans.

Currently, the governor-appointed members of the U of L board include 12 Democrats and three Republicans (11 to four before Murray’s doctor Robert Hughes changed his registration to Democrat in 2014). Two of its members are registered independents. Applying the state’s “proportional representation” status and the current ratio of 52.9 to 39.1 percent of registered voters with the two main parties, the U of L is expected to have around nine Democrats and six or seven. republicans. The other or both could be from any party.

The imbalance is growing in the UK and the KCTCS. Twelve of the 16 people appointed by Beshear to the British board of directors are Democrats, four Republicans. Under state law, it should be eight or nine of the first and six of the last.

Seven of the eight regents appointed by the governor to the KCTCS are Democrats, against a Republican. The ratio should be closer to five to three, depending on state law.

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Alexandra Kanik / KyCIR

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Beshear, at the Fancy Farm rally last Friday, blamed the imbalances on the nomination process itself.

“You go through these cycles where you have terms that end at different times, you have appointments that come at different times and you try, as much as you can, to address all the different factors that are. in the statutes – geography, race, party – and so at all times you’re going to be out of balance somewhere, ”he said.

But Kentucky law does not allow such excuses for disregarding parties’ “proportional representation” on state university boards. As Stumbo wrote of Fletcher in 2007: “Gov. Fletcher has failed to make appointments to state university boards that accurately reflect political choices and the makeup of Kentucky’s people.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has briefed Attorney General Jack Conway on the boards of the U of L, UK and KCTCS, which are made up of Democrats. A spokeswoman for Conway – the Democratic gubernatorial candidate – made the following statement: “We will independently review the numbers you provided. If the advice is not in compliance, we will report it to Governor Beshear.

Ed Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics in Helena, MT, said too many political supporters make for a cohesive board.

“Governors who appoint commissions and councils should have representatives from various walks of life, from various constituencies, not just their donors,” he said. “It’s obviously taking the easy way out, finding donors who have both the money and the time to devote to a commission.”

University of Louisville

Tyler Franklin / KyCIR

Louisville University

Based on their campaign donations in 2011, the U of L board looks like a Beshear fan club. All 17 directors appointed by Beshear donated money to his reelection bid, even Republicans. Between those 17 and their spouses, they donated $ 53,000 to Beshear’s 2011 re-election campaign, while only giving $ 1,000 to his Republican opponent, David Williams. This $ 1,000 donor, Ron Butt, owner of the Louisville Financial Planning Company, saw fit to donate $ 2,000 to Beshear.

Previous Beshear appointees who completed their terms on the U of L board of directors donated $ 14,000 to Beshear in 2011, along with their spouses. They didn’t give Williams anything.

The model holds true for the UK board of directors, 16 of the 20 members of which are appointed by the governor. These appointees and their spouses donated $ 28,650 to Beshear in 2011, and nothing to Williams. Add the money of the people named above and the score drops to $ 33,650 down to 0.

Kentucky college boards also have faculty, staff, and student members. They are not appointed by the governor.

Fletcher, the state’s last Republican governor, was equally obliging to his political benefactors. His U of L appointees and their wives donated $ 30,775 to his candidacy for re-election in 2007, compared to Beshear’s $ 3,000. They gave $ 17,500 to Fletcher’s campaign in 2003, compared to $ 5,000 to Democrat Ben Chandler.

Governor Steve Beshear

Governor Steve Beshear

The governors of Kentucky wield power in a way that goes beyond the presidency as the chief executive of the Commonwealth and the signing of bills. The winner of the governor’s race in November will also gain the right to form nearly 400 councils, commissions, councils, authorities and panels that govern everything in the state from judicial appointments to professional licenses to egg marketing.

Nothing in state law prevents governors from appointing donors or campaign friends as U of L and UK trustees and KCTCS regents. Appointees are certainly not seeking board seats for pay (expenses only), and any idea of ​​monetary gain would be virtually stifled by ethical rules that prohibit or discourage personal financial transactions.

“I think a lot of people want to sit on their alma mater’s boards, especially in the UK and the U of L, which are big in the state and come with a lot of prestige,” said Mike Hammons, government appointments secretary. Brereton Jones from 1991 to 1994.

“I think people want to be with the president, they want to be involved in what’s going on in these institutions and they really want to have access to the best seats for sports programs,” said Hammons, now director of advocacy for the at. nonprofit Children Inc. in Covington.

Davy Jones, professor of toxicology at the UK College of Medicine, said he was unaware of the large flow of campaign money from board members to the governors who appointed them. Most faculty members, he said, want trustees to be chosen on merit.

“You want board members who are interested and engaged” in helping faculty carry out academic teaching, research and public service missions, Jones said.

Of the 31 U of L directors and spouses who contributed to the Beshear campaign in 2011, 22 donated the state maximum of $ 2,000. Of the 21 UK directors and spouses who contributed to Beshear in 2011, eight donated $ 2,000. And of the 11 KCTCS regents and spouses who donated, six donated $ 2,000.

But the money doesn’t stop there. According to state election finance records, James Booth, owner of a Republican coal company on the UK board of directors, donated $ 100,000 to Beshear’s inaugural committee in 2011. Four years earlier, the ophthalmologist from Louisville Edward Brockman and Georgetown car dealer Frank Shoop – both UK board of directors – donated $ 10,000 each at Beshear’s first grand opening, as did U of L administrator and co-owner of 21c Museum Hotels, Steve Wilson.

“At some point,” said Republican Party Chairman Robertson, “the governor has to do what state law requires him to do, and clearly he really doesn’t care. He wants to reward political supporters or, it seems, require someone to become a political supporter in order to receive him.

Journalist James McNair can be reached at [email protected] or (502) 814-6543.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that Steve Robertson is the incumbent President of the Kentucky Republican Party.

Disclosure: In October 2014, the University of Louisville, which has donated for years to Louisville Public Media, allocated $ 10,000 to KyCIR as part of a larger donation from LPM. Trustee Stephen Campbell donated to KyCIR.

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