Contributors Bought Beshear's Extra Derby Tickets

May 21, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A published report says Gov. Steve Beshear's major contributors got help landing some of the best seats to the Kentucky Derby.

The Courier-Journal cited records it obtained in reporting that many of Beshear's extra tickets were purchased by major contributors to his re-election campaign, inauguration, and to the Democratic Party. Those tickets included many of the best seats on Millionaires' Row.

Churchill Downs made 360 tickets available to Beshear, who officially had 52 guests.

Some of the big contributors who bought the tickets included retired Louisville entrepreneur Bill Britton, Louisville businessman Lee Zimmerman, Lexington banker Luther Deaton and Lexington bloodstock agent David Ingordo.

Beshear's spokeswoman, Kerri Richardson, said in a statement that campaign contributions "have no influence on the state's regulations, policies or actions."

"Tickets are available to the Governor's Office staff, as well as the staff of other Constitutional officers, the Governor's family and friends, and guests of various Cabinets," the statement said.

Meanwhile, names of most people who were part of Beshear's entourage weren't released, but the newspaper reports Don Blankenship, the former chief executive officer of Massey Energy, was among them.

Richardson said Blankenship wasn't invited by the governor, but was a guest of two West Virginia businessmen who did get invitations - James Justice II and his son, James Justice III. The Justices have energy and agriculture interests in Kentucky and were large contributors last year to Beshear's political causes.

The practice of helping contributors get Derby tickets continues despite the state ethics commission saying a decade ago that it was a bad idea.

The panel issued a letter condemning the practice in 1999, under former Gov. Paul Patton. The letter said that while Patton didn't personally benefit, "the Commission does not believe that the allocation of tickets to political supporters is advantageous to the entire Commonwealth."

John Steffen, current executive director of the ethics commission, told the newspaper that he concurred with the letter.

"In my opinion the advice of the 1999 letter would still ring true today - that the use of tickets for economic development purposes is advantageous to the commonwealth but those allocated for political supporters would not be."

Beshear, like previous governors, set up a nonprofit corporation which purchased the tickets then resold them at face value.

Patton told the newspaper in an interview that he still sees nothing wrong with the practice.

"There are just a lot of people who enjoy that experience, and they're willing to pay for it and they don't expect anything out of it," Patton said.