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The Power Players: Kentucky's Top Political Donors

Kentucky State Capitol
Kentucky State Capitol

Kentucky’s top 10 “power players” in financing election campaigns are mostly Republican Party supporters who dabble heavily in national politics and races in states other than their own.

The 10 biggest political donors gave $4.2 million between them from the beginning of 2011 to this past June 30, according to data compiled and analyzed by the Investigative News Network for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Campaign financing has accelerated since then and continued to do so leading up to Tuesday's elections. Kentuckians are right in the swing of that, and some are opening their wallets big-time for their political favorites.

Since individual contributions to candidates are capped, the biggest sums are going to political action committees, fund-raising committees and political parties, according to the data, which was provided by the National Institute for Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics.

For instance, Public Storage founder B. Wayne Hughes Sr. is Kentucky’s top power player by virtue of his $1.5 million gift to American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove.

Christy Brown of Louisville gave $250,000 to the Florida Democratic Party, the same amount that Richard Masson of Versailles gave the libertarian Purple PAC.

Humana co-founder David Jones Sr. gave $125,000 to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, the super PAC supporting Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.

Hughes, Masson and Jones are strong backers of Republicans, along with Lexington businessman Terry Forcht and his wife Marion, Covington business executive Robert Kohlhepp, Louisville businessman James Patterson and businessman James Booth of Lovely, Ky.

Brown is one of the few power players in the Democratic camp. Kindred Healthcare CEO Paul Diaz tilts Democratic, but has thrown a five-figure amount to the Republican Party and $7,700 to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner. Diaz has also given $2,700 to McConnell, nothing to challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Even the Forchts have donated at least $39,000 to various Democratic Party vehicles.

The 10 power players combined contributions constitute about 7.1 percent of the $59.7 million given by all individual Kentuckians from Jan. 1, 2011, to June 30, 2014.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest political contributors from Kentucky.

B. Wayne Hughes Sr.

Hughes is the founder and chairman of Public Storage, the biggest self-storage chain in the world. An owner of thoroughbred racehorses since 1972, Hughes became a significant Kentucky landowner and resident in 2004 through his purchase of the 733-acre Spendthrift Farm in Fayette County. Hughes, 81, ranks 262nd on the Forbes 400 with an estimated net worth of $2.4 billion.
Richard Masson

Originally from California, Masson was co-founder and a principal of Oaktree Capital Management in Los Angeles and was at Oaktree in 1997 when he and his wife Sue Ann bought the 260-acre Golden Age Farm near Versailles. They breed and run racehorses under the Green Lantern Stables name. Masson retired from Oaktree in 2009 to devote his attention on his agricultural holdings. He still serves on its board.
Christina Lee “Christy” Brown

Brown has devoted her life to social responsibility, community service and Louisville arts organizations. In 1985, she co-founded the Louisville-based Center for Interfaith Relations, which now includes the U.S. Festival of Faiths program. She bought Louisville Stoneware in 1997. Brown is the widow of Owsley Brown II, the former Brown-Forman Corp. chairman and chief executive who died in 2011.
Terry and Marion Forcht

A Louisville native, Terry Forcht is founder and chief executive of the Forcht Group, a business conglomerate based in Lexington, and Marion Forcht is his wife of 55 years. Forcht Group owns Forcht Bank, which has more than $1 billion in assets and 30 banking locations in 12 counties. It also owns nine nursing homes, 22 radio stations, 19 finance company offices, two insurance companies, two newspapers, a construction company and several other ventures. The Forchts live in Corbin.
Robert J. Kohlhepp

Born in Covington and still a Covington resident, Kohlhepp is chairman of Cintas Corp., a publicly owned maker of uniforms and industrial sundries based in Mason, Ohio. He joined the company as an employee in 1967, became a director in 1979 and served as chief executive from 1995 to 2003.
James Booth

A resident of Inez, Ky., Booth is chief executive of Booth Energy Group, a major coal mining company based in Debord, Ky. Booth Energy mines coal in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. Booth also owns FastLane Convenience Stores and real estate across Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. He recently served as chairman of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
David A. Jones Sr.

Jones co-founded Humana Inc., the Louisville-based health insurance company, in 1961 and served as chairman until his retirement in 2005. He has since served on the boards of corporations, non-profits and business groups. Among those is 21st Century Parks, a Kentucky-based non-profit created to preserve and develop new public parklands.
Paul Diaz

Diaz is the chief executive of Kindred Healthcare, a Louisville-based operator of specialty hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and home health care and hospice businesses. Publicly traded, Kindred has annual revenue of about $5 billion and has about 63,000 employees in 47 states. If its $1.8 billion acquisition of Gentiva Health Services receives final approvals, it will become the nation’s fourth biggest provider of health care services.
James A. Patterson

A Louisville native, Patterson is owner and president of Pattco LLC, a restaurant-development company in Louisville. His big breakthrough was the creation of Long John Silver’s fast-seafood restaurants. He sold his stake and became a Wendy’s franchisee, then a founder or instigator of several businesses, including Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurants and Rally’s hamburger drive-throughs.

This story is part of an Investigative News Network collaboration examining the major political donors in states across the U.S. To view other stories in this initiative, please visit www.investigativenewsnetwork.org.

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