Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear faces fundraising complaints

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FRANKFORT — A government employee seeking whistle-blower status claimed in a letter released publicly Monday that some state workers were threatened with termination unless they contributed to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s re-election campaign.

State psychologist Rodney Young, who works for the Department of Juvenile Justice in Louisville, made that accusation in a letter to Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson and Attorney General Jack Conway.

Robertson released that letter on Monday, along with complaints he filed with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and the Registry of Election Finance.

Beshear spokesman Matt Erwin dismissed the claim as “gutter politics,” saying Young’s complaint is based on “unsubstantiated third party rumors.”

Young said a Beshear aide in the Kentucky Justice Cabinet told his colleagues last December that they could lose their jobs if they don’t contribute $500 each to the re-election campaign.

“I will be able to retire in March, so at this point in my career, I simply wish to do what I can to expose and change the pervasive practice of extorting political contributions from state employees who should be under pressure to do one thing … serve the people of Kentucky to the best of their abilities,” Young wrote in the letter dated July 27.

Erwin pointed out that the letter and complaints were released a day after a poll by The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV showed Beshear leading Republican challenger David Williams by 24 percentage points.

“Nowhere in this complaint does the filer ever claim he was pressured by anyone to make a donation to a political campaign nor does he present any evidence that anyone was pressured to make a donation,” Erwin said.

“This complaint is based on gossip and should be treated as the desperate and baseless political stunt that it is,” he said.

Robertson’s formal complaints included Beshear’s campaign finance reports, which he said showed hundreds of state government employees and their spouses having contributed more than $400,000.

State government employees can contribute to campaigns, but under Kentucky law, political candidates can’t solicit donations. Those who do could face felony charges.

Based on Young’s accusations, Robertson called on Beshear to return all contributions he has received from state employees.

“These are very serious allegations that cannot be taken lightly,” Robertson said in a statement. “It is my hope that the appropriate authorities will launch immediate and thorough investigations. We all know the power and influence of the governor’s office. When that power is abused, it is the ultimate violation of public trust.”

Robertson called for investigations by the attorney general’s office, the ethics commission and the campaign finance agency. Conway spokeswoman Allison Martin acknowledged Monday that Young’s letter had been received by the attorney general and that it is being processed. She declined to comment further.

In the complaint to the ethics commission, Robertson called Young’s allegation “very disturbing” and said it would be both criminal and unethical if proven.

Robertson said numerous state employees have privately complained about being pressured to contribute to the Beshear campaign. He said they refused to publicly report their concerns for fear of retaliation.

“Many complainants said they felt their jobs, appointments or contracts would be in jeopardy if they did not assist in raising campaign money for Beshear,” Robertson said.