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Beshear's Transition Team Has Familiar Names, Longtime Donors To Family

Andy Beshear on May 3, 2019.
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin
Andy Beshear on May 3, 2019.

Kentucky Gov.-elect Andy Beshear’s transition team will help craft his administration, and he’s stacked it with well-connected bureaucrats, legislators and longtime supporters of the Beshear family’s political campaigns.

Transition team members donated at least $358,000 to Beshear since his run for attorney general in 2015, according to state campaign finance records. About 80 percent of the 163 team members have donated to Beshear, either in this race against incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin or his 2015 campaign. At least 16 currently work for Andy Beshear as employees of the Office of the Attorney General.

At least 70 members of the transition team have also been supporters of former governor Steve Beshear, Andy Beshear’s father. They gave Steve Beshear more than $155,000 collectively during his 2007 and 2011 runs for governor.

And the connections to Steve Beshear run even deeper for at least two dozen transition team members who served within his administration, according to a KyCIR review.

Beshear’s spokesperson, Crystal Staley, provided an emailed statement in response to a request for an interview. She said the transition team is an unpaid, volunteer position, and its “members provide their time and energy in service to the Commonwealth,” she said.

She also touted the team’s diversity “in gender, race, faith, political party and sexual orientation.” KyCIR requested, but hasn’t received, a breakdown of the team members’ political party affiliation, race and sex.

Staley did not respond to a question about what role donor history played in the team’s makeup.

Dozens Of Max Donors

In Kentucky, state law caps individual political campaign contributions at $2,000 per election cycle -- including primary elections. The cap was raised from $1,000 in 2017.

Nearly 60 members of Beshear’s transition team gave the maximum donation allowed under law during at least one cycle of the 2019 election, according to a KyCIR review of Kentucky Registry of Election Finance data. Almost 40 members gave a maximum individual donation during his 2015 bid for Attorney General.

And at least 50 did the same for Andy Beshear’s father when he was running for reelection as governor in 2011, campaign finance records show.

None of these findings surprise political science experts, partisan advocates, or ethics watchdogs.

“To the victor belong the spoils of victory,” said Dewey M. Clayton, a professor at the University of Louisville’s Department of Political Science.

“It’s almost understood that people who gain office are going to reward people that helped them along the way,” Clayton said.

Clayton said the negative public perception that accompanies campaign finance -- that donors seek to benefit by giving -- is often overstated. He believes most people involved in politics are keeping in mind the best interests of their constituents.

Not every donor is looking for something in return, Clayton said.

“We can only hope that more often than not, it is not the case,” he said.

Tres Watson, the former spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky, said transition teams need to be comprised of people that support the incoming leader, and giving money is a sure sign of support.

But Watson, who now runs a political consulting firm in Lexington, worried the sheer number of people on the transition team who donated to the Beshears could dilute the shaping of the Gov.-elect’s administration.

“You want to get some differing opinions in there,” he said. “You need to have very frank discussions.”

The most active and involved Democrats are oftentimes most likely to be giving money to support their candidate, said Rosalyn Cooperman, associate professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington.

“This is intuitive,” she said. “The electoral context is that Democrats - or any party - are strategic actors if they want to win.”

And money is critical to win in a high-profile, competitive race, Cooperman said.

To be sure, these findings represent just a fraction of the money the Beshears have collected over the years. Staley said nearly 19,000 donors contributed to Gov.-elect Beshear’s 2019 gubernatorial campaign.

KyCIR reviewed only the individual contributions from transition team members to the candidates, which are available online through the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. This data does not include money given through political action committees, or specify when contributions were raised in bundled-style fundraisers.

And state campaign finance data is not perfect. It includes some typos or inconsistent spellings. For instance, Tom Halbleib will serve on the transition team’s Finance and Administration Cabinet committee, and state campaign finance records list a Thomas Halbleib, W. Thomas Halbleib, and W. Halbleib.

The transition team list included only names and hometowns, so it’s also possible family members with the same name as a transition team member could be included here -- or that an inconsistent spelling caused some donations by transition members to be missed in these totals.

Ties To Steve Beshear Administration

Some holdovers from the elder Beshear’s administration will take a front-row position in his son’s transition team.

Larry Bond, a chief of staff for Steve Beshear, will co-chair the younger Beshear’s transition committee for the Office of Governor. Bond contributed $5,000 to Gov.-elect Beshear since 2015, state records show -- giving the maximum amount allowed under law at least once in both 2019 and 2015.

And Larry Roberts, who served as Labor Cabinet Secretary under Steve Beshear, will sit on the transition team’s Labor Cabinet committee.

Emily Parento helped advise the elder Beshear’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act. She will co-chair the transition team’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services committee.

Cooperman said the staff overlap is to be expected. Democratic staffers and officials “shelter in place” while a Republican administration is at the reigns, she said. They often resurface when their party takes control again.

“He is going to draw on people who served on his father’s administration,” she said.

The Gov.-elect’s task, Cooperman said, is now to make a name for himself apart from his father’s.

Watson, the Republican strategist, criticized the elder Beshear’s administration, saying the state “treaded water with the economy” during his tenure. He warned the younger Beshear can expect the same, if he continues to rely on the people who served his father.

But Clayton stressed that people who served the elder Beshear have institutional knowledge and can help smooth the transition -- which is the whole point .

Bigger questions arise, Clayton said, as the administration gets ironed out and jobs are filled, contracts are awarded and appointments are made.

This is what Richard Beliles will be watching. Beliles is the state chair for Common Cause Kentucky, a nonpartisan ethics watchdog group.

He’s been working to keep an eye on state government in Kentucky for nearly 30 years. In that time, he said he’s found that both political parties are equally susceptible to unscrupulous behavior.

“And it seems to me that there is a correlation between contributions and nice things happening for the people that give them,” Beliles said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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