Saturday, October 06, 2018

When Kentucky Bluegrass Smells like Stinkweed: More Kentucky Corruption


Over the past several weeks now, I've been sharing with you the results of my research into the politics of money; who's giving it and who's getting it. We've looked at the key industries which donate the most, and the largest individual donors (and no, the Koch Brothers and George Soros aren't even in the top ten. by the standards of the really big donors, they're paupers). In our Capitalistic world, everything has a price, not the least of which are politicians especially since the gross error of a out of touch (and perhaps naive) Supreme Court which upheld Citizens United (Citizens United vs. FEC in 2010).

As I'm sure you know, this "supreme" mistake declared money to be equal to "free speech" and turned corporations into "pseudo-people" ("Frankensteins" as I call them) with the same rights as us mere flesh and blood mortals, except more so. While you and I are capped as to what we can give, corporations aren't. They're free to give what they want, when they want, and to whom they want; essentially taking ordinary citizens out of the picture. Adding in all that lobbyist do on behalf of their corporate masters and the revolving door between Wall Street, E Street (where most lobbying firms are located in Washington DC), and Capital Hill, it's no wonder that we're an Oligarchy; a plutocracy. It seems that politicians only have time for us every two, four, or six years, when they don their "common folk" apparel, adopt their well practiced populist patter and force themselves to mingle with the ordinary citizens out here in "Flyover Country".

My last article discussed Kentucky being named one of the most politically corrupt in the nation and some of the common dirty tricks used by candidates running for office, especially those used in my home state of Kentucky. I thought it would be interesting to discuss a few more of those tricks. But first, since we've previously discusses the major donors at the federal level and the role of military contractors and their beneficiaries, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the key lobbyists in Kentucky. So, let's take a look shall we?

There are approximately 20 "high dollar" lobbyists in Frankfort, Kentucky's state capital, who represent around 720 corporations and associations. First on the list is John McCarthy, the former top generalissimo of the Kentucky Republican Party and regular sight at the Jefferson County Republican Party meetings (McCarthy was the former Kentucky GOP Chairman). McCarthy's clients include Altria (Phillip Morris USA), the University of Louisville and Bardenwerper Talbott and Roberts, LLC, a law firm which represents land real estate developers. McCarthy earns $315,003 for his efforts. In second place is the former State Auditor and Secretary of State, Bob Babbage. Babbage, a Democrat, represents clients like Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, Aetna, Cash Express, and Novo Nordisk Inc, which is a Danish pharmaceutical company.

In third place is Patrick Jennings. His clients include UPS, Swedish Match AB (a manufacturer of tobacco snuff, cigars, smokeless tobacco, lighters, matches, etc), and Consumer Healthcare Products Association (does anyone else note the irony here?). He earns $281,626. Forth place belongs to Ronny Pryor. Pryor's top three clients are Molina Health Care, LifePoint Hospitals, and the Hospital Corporation of America. Next, at number five, is Karen Thomas-Lentz. She represents clients like EPIC Pharmacies, Swisher International (a manufacture of cigars and other tobacco products), and the Kentucky Liquor Retailers Coalition, for which she makes $209,073. Coming in at number six is Sean Cutter. Sean's clients include the Jefferson County Public Schools, the Kentucky Distillers Association, and EQT Corporation, which is in the oil and gas exploration and pipeline transportation business. For his services, Sean earns $201,380.

In the seventh spot is John Cooper, whose main clients are Toyota, the Kentucky Bankers Association, and the Kentucky Medical Association. For his efforts, Mr. Cooper is paid around $193,405. In eighth place we have Leigh Thacker. Ms. Thacker represents the Kentucky Press Association, the Cigar Association of America, and the Outdoor Advertising Association, for which is earns $182,667. Our ninth place goes to Kevin Payton. His top three clients are Fidelity Investments, the Outdoor Advertising Association as well, and FanDuel, Inc., which is a daily fantasy sports provider and sports bookmaker service based in New York City. Kevin's brings home $172,200.

Completing our top ten is Chris Nolan, whose three clients are the Kentucky Distillers Association, Maximus, and RAI Services. Chris earns $170,847. In case you're wondering, Maximus is a information technology services company which provides business process services for government healthcare and human service agencies. It's focus is on administering government based programs such as Medicaid, child support enforcement, welfare-to-work programs, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Medicare. RAI Services is Reynolds American Incorporated, whose chief business is tobacco products.

Some other notable mentions include Rachel Bayens, whose clients include Louisville Regional Airport Authority, CVS Health, and Anthem, Inc. She makes $122,654, which is nothing to sneeze at! Greg Brotzge who represents Sullivan University, the Kentucky Paint Council, and the Kentucky Bluegrass Cannabis LLC. His income is $114,734. Jason Underwood's clients include Legalize Kentucky Now, Delaware North Companies which is a global food and hospitality company. It's also involved with gaming, sporting and entertainment businesses, and Sazerac Company, an alcoholic beverage company.

While only the top three clients are listed here, state lobbyists typically handle 25 or more clients. Meanwhile, lobbyists in Washington may handle fewer clients, their dollar volume is much much higher, as are their incomes. It's not uncommon for lobbyists in Washington to earn well into the seven figure salaries with some seriously great perks, which is why most politicians and senior staffers on Capitol Hill set their sights on E Street almost from day one (or sooner) of their careers.

Nevertheless, lobbyists spent a record setting $8.4 million dollars in Frankfort to insure they got the proper amount of "free speech" spread around to Kentucky politicians. That's three years in row where lobbyists have set a new spending record. Who "spoke" the loudest to legislators? That would be Altria (Phillip Morris USA), the tobacco company. They spent a record $332,000, outspending everyone else to make sure they were heard loud and clear.

That message included easing restrictions on tobacco advertising and stopping any tax increases on tobacco products. Another big spender was LG$E and KU Energy, which lobbied hard to reduce what they have to pay for excess energy created by consumers who generate their own electricity from solar panels and windmills. Apparently their $116,858 wasn't enough and House Bill 227 failed.

Sadly, while businesses and professional associations are well cared for in places like Frankfort and Washington, ordinary citizens lack any full, or ever part-time lobbyists to protect our interests. Even if there were, it's highly doubtful they could come anywhere near to matching the money that would be needed to offset what businesses are prepared to spend; even unions are grossly outspent. Meanwhile, even politicians with the best of intentions (I've known a very few and I'm sure you have too) have to raise money to get and stay elected. Today's campaigns have all but squeezed out anyone who isn't a millionaire, or at least well-off, and that's just local and state elections.

Federal elected offices are completely out of reach of most everyone (and really, even appointed offices which are often given based on the one's ability to raise and donate money). So, when we look at the quality of people in office, just remember that these are far from the best and brightest America has to offer. These are those who were willing to sell themselves for corporate money...and the corporate chains which go along with it. It is not a place for those who think and act for themselves.

As you'll recall from my last article, we discussed some of numerous "dirty tricks" campaigns engage in. There are literally hundreds of little "gotchas" campaigns play on each other. Most are usually harmless and designed to liven up the otherwise monotonous days and evenings that campaigning can become, though a few can be pretty annoying. However, there are numerous other, not so humorous, things which unscrupulous candidates, their managers, advisors, and/or volunteers do which are unethical in the least or totally illegal at the worse.

Surprisingly, one of the more common, and certainly unethical things is hiring or otherwise bribing someone to run in your race as a "ringer". Usually, but not always, this happens in a Primary. The reason is actually quite simple. First off, primaries tend to have a low turnout, therefore it's important to make sure to get your supporters out and keep your opponents at home. The next best thing is to split the vote. That's were getting a "ringer" or two to run in order to divide the vote for your opponent. More specifically, it's useful to divide an anti-incumbent vote. How many times have you seen a unpopular incumbent "somehow" win? Well, it's usually because they get people to run in the race and focus their efforts against the incumbent's strongest opponent. It's also a great way to get the weakest candidate the advantage. We'll look at both situations.

As an example, I know of an instance where a well known and pretty strong candidate ran for an open seat (meaning there was no incumbent). That individual was known for being honest and seriously interested in helping the people in the district as well not one known to do as they're told. However, a "good ole boy" clique didn't want that. They needed someone they could "own". So while they found someone to run, they knew that individual couldn't win. So, they got two others to run and concentrate their efforts against the better candidate, which, in effect, meant the better candidate was running against three individuals rather than just one, and just before the election, both of the "ringers" dropped out and encouraged everyone to support the weaker candidate. Unfortunately, this technique often proves to be successful.

A similar example is when a unpopular incumbent faces a strong challenger. When attempts to buy them out of running fails (like offering to help get them a board or commission position, promise to get snow removed from their neighbor's streets, fix their sidewalks, drainage, or pave their street), the incumbent will often employ a ringer or two. From there, it's pretty much the same as above. Often times, a ringer won't show up at a debate out of fear of getting caught. However, they sometimes do, and when they do, they're fairly easy to spot since they don't go seriously after the incumbent (they may make a few little jabs at them, but nothing too serious).

In another instance I know about, a candidate appeared at one of those so-called newspaper "endorsements". Of course, I'm one of those who believe the media should simply report the news, not try to manipulate or push their agenda like they do with their "endorsements", but nevertheless, this candidate appeared along with his opponent and another individual who turned out to be the ringer (and an obvious one at that. He played in the same local band as the opponent's brother!). So, after introductions, the questioning by the panel started. It didn't take long for the opponent to show their complete absence of any knowledge of issues. While the better candidate knew their stuff, the opponent didn't have a clue. Most telling, however, was that the ringer had no responses at all! When asked for their opinion on an issue, they would shrug their shoulders and say something like "I don't know" or point to one of the other candidates and say "I agree with him".

Never once did the newspaper interviewers, whose jobs are to ask tough questions and investigate, ever question the cavalier attitude of this mystery candidate. They never bothered to check this individual out (which even a casual inquiry would have revealed they identity). So, at the end of the interview, the opponent and ringer walked out together...laughing no less! When the "endorsements" came out a few days later, there was no or little mention of the ringer, and while generally good comments were made about the better candidate, it was the opponent who got the endorsement! Of course, what helped was that the opponent candidate's actual answers were changed.

Remarks they made in the interview were deleted or altered, and in a few cases, misapplied from the better candidate. How can that be? Simple, someone didn't want the better candidate to win, and that meant no "endorsement" Of course, eventually everything comes out with the wash as the expression goes. It was discovered that one of the interviewers (allegedly) got a complimentary membership of some sort...after the election. While there's really nothing "illegal" about any of this, it's quite obviously unethical, which should tell you all you want to know about the opponent and those backing them.

Since then, and as a result of other stories, I've encouraged candidates to avoid newspaper endorsements. Yes, some may be honest, but you never know. Secondly, those doing the interview rarely if ever reveal their names to the public and never do they reveal their political registration which the public deserves to know; they need to know the political slant of those making the endorsements in order to know how seriously the "endorsements" should be taken. Lastly, I've campaigned to not only have this information made public, but also to record and release the interview itself unedited, either in video form on the newspaper's website, or simply print a complete transcript of the interview. Until newspaper's become as transparent as they tell everyone else to be, candidates should avoid the interview.

Again, there is nothing unusual here. It's not uncommon in today's world of politics, but that doesn't make it Ok. Most endorsement processes don't permit other individuals such as campaign managers or advisors to be in the room, and most definitely no recording devises. The claim is that they would try to "coach" their candidate with the answers or intimidate their opponent by recording devises (or more likely, embarrass their own candidate who may come off looking or sounding like a dork). Personally, I think it's more a matter of catching the interviewers in the act of playing politics in what's supposed to be an unbiased and honest process.

There you have it friends. This is how the game is all too often played, and I haven't even scratched the surface yet. I go back time and time again to stress that we need to undo decisions like Citizens United; we need to implement serious campaign finance reform; we need term limits and an end to gerrymandering. We need a level playing field when it comes to allowing third party and Independents the opportunity to run for office, or even a seat on the Board of Elections (in case you forgot or didn't know, Independents are the nation's largest political bloc with 44% of all registered voters, and growing. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are stuck in the 20% range and shrinking overall). Unless we do, Kentucky and America will remain an increasingly corrupt duopoly amid a ruling Oligarchy of plutocrats. In short, we will continue to lose our Republic and the freedoms which go with it.



Kentucky's GOP former chair is now top paid lobbyist in Frankfort

These 20 lobbyists were among the highest paid people at the state capital in 2017

Lobbyist spending tops $8.4 million in Kentucky legislature



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