Steve Beshear Unveils Plan for Cleaning Up Frankfort and Restoring Government Integrity
Steve Beshear, Democratic nominee for Governor, today released details of his comprehensive plan for "Cleaning Up Frankfort - Restoring Government Integrity." See the entire plan here.
During the 2003 campaign, Ernie Fletcher promised to clean up Frankfort and put an end to waste, fraud and abuse. Yet from almost day one, the Governor and his Administration have been plagued by allegations of scandal and corruption. About a year after taking office, the Attorney General began investigating whether jobs were being filled based on political affiliations or on merit. Shortly afterward, 28 members of the Fletcher Administration - and the Governor himself - were indicted on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and violating the Merit System law.
Fletcher's response to these serious charges was to pardon his entire administration and plead the Fifth Amendment when he faced a grand jury, refusing to tell them the truth under oath. In order to avoid prosecution he signed a sworn statement admitting that the investigation was proper - and now he disowns his own admissions. Now the Governor stands accused of having selected transportation projects based on whether local lawmakers supported his policies and ideas.
"Kentucky deserves better than this," said Beshear. "We deserve a leader in Frankfort who keeps his word - not one who disowns and dishonors it. We need leadership. Kentucky cannot prosper if it continues to be seen as a backwater state where you have to pay off the Governor to get any business. Now more than ever, Kentucky needs a leader who can reach across party lines to advance key issues like economic development, health care and education. I have the experience, maturity and toughness to get the job done and lead Kentucky toward a brighter, more prosperous tomorrow. It's time we take the necessary steps toward ethics reform in Frankfort."
Steve Beshear's Plan for "Cleaning up Frankfort - Restoring Government Integrity" calls for the following:
* Respecting the Merit System. It is critical that the Merit System be protected. As Governor, Steve Beshear will restore accountability to the Governor's Office and Kentucky state government and consider increasing penalties for anyone who abuses the Merit System.
* Proposing Legislation to Change the Way Members of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission are Appointed. As Governor, Steve Beshear will restore accountability and integrity to state government by proposing legislation to change the way members of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission are appointed. Recently, the five-member panel - four of whom were appointed by Fletcher - ended their investigation into the alleged illegal hiring practices of Governor Fletcher. Many people across the Commonwealth questioned the ability of a Commission to be impartial and fair when investigating the Governor who appointed them. Beshear will back legislation proposed by the Ethics Commission itself, to try to overcome the recent implications of its own conflicts-of-interest, that would require appointments to the Commission to be drawn by the Governor from a pool of names submitted by the Attorney General or the Auditor in addition to the Governor himself; authority to draw up this pool of names would rotate among these three officials. This proposal passed the House this year but was blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate.
* Enforcing the Code of Ethics and Obeying the Law. Kentucky already has some of the toughest, most stringent ethics laws of all states. Steve Beshear will ensure that these laws are respected and protected by the leader of the state. A Governor like Ernie Fletcher, who thinks he's above the law, won't tell the truth to a grand jury and pardons everyone in his Administration for crimes they may have committed, cannot provide the leadership needed to enforce these laws.
* Reforming the Governor's Pardoning Power. Steve Beshear proposes limiting the pardoning power of future governors. As Governor, he will lead the General Assembly in an effort to pass and place on the ballot a constitutional amendment to limit the Governor's pardoning power. The Governor should have the power to pardon someone only after they have been convicted of a crime. By placing such a limit on this power, all the facts surrounding an offense would be known and made public before any pardon was issued, and thus the Governor would be more accountable to the people. Fletcher placed his political appointees above the law by abusing his constitutional power to pardon - a power that was never meant to allow a governor to hide criminal acts by his political friends from the public. Ernie Fletcher not only pardoned his cronies who had been indicted by a grand jury, he also issued blanket pardons to any of his friends who had violated the law even before they were indicted.
* Disclosing Legal Defense Fund Contributors. As Governor, Steve Beshear will close loopholes that the Fletcher Administration has exploited, by prohibiting contributions to public officials' legal defense funds by any individual or business that lobbies, or has business before, any state entity - and require quarterly reporting of all contributions to legal defense funds of any candidate or public official. Legal defense funds are funds set up to defray the costs of legal proceedings that involve ethic violations, civil and criminal matters. These funds cry out for strict laws to forbid lobbyists and special interests from using them as backdoor ways to circumvent ethics and sunshine laws by seeking to gain monetarily or politically in return for contributions to these funds.
* Making All Government Deals with Private Interests Public. Once any economic deal is made between state government and a private interest - an individual or a business - the information should be made public. As Governor, Beshear will make sure that the public has access to all economic deals made by state government to safeguard against public corruption and scrutiny. By adding this measure of accountability, the public now will know what the state is giving away and what private interests are getting in return.
* Requiring Ethics Training and Education for Legislative and Executive Branch Employees and Lobbyists. The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission is responsible for establishing, supervising and conducting an ethics education and training program designed for legislators and publishing manuals and guidelines on the state's Code of Ethics, however, Kentucky is one of 17 states that provides training but doesn't require legislators to participate. As Governor, Beshear will propose that all legislators participate in and complete an ethics education and training program within 6 months of taking office and he will propose the same requirement for all lobbyists. In addition, Beshear will require that all appointees in his Administration complete an ethics training and education program offered by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
* Making All Administration Officials Accountable and Subject to the Ethics Laws. The Fletcher Administration has used unpaid advisors and "volunteers" functioning out of the Capitol itself to skirt the state's ethics laws. As Governor, Steve Beshear will ensure that all members of his Administration with significant executive branch authority are subject to state ethic laws.
* Increasing the Penalties for Violating the Executive Branch Code of Ethics, as Well. As Governor, Beshear will propose that anyone found guilty of ethical misconduct and in violation of the Code of Ethics repay the costs incurred by the state to conduct the investigation as part of the penalty. In addition, he will review the classification penalties and consider enhancing them to include higher financial penalties (fees and fines) and public reprimand.
* Strengthening Protections for Whistleblowers. Public servants and private citizens who have the integrity to come forward and report abuses of power or misuse of public funds deserve to be protected - but too often they are persecuted. It needs to make it easier for whistleblowers to report abuses - Beshear will push to extend the current statute of limitations protecting whistleblowers from 90 days to a full year and promote whistleblowing when it comes to misuse of public funds: Beshear will consider enactment of a state "false claims" act - such as 19 other states, including almost all our neighbors (Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia), have - which would allow individuals to keep part of the savings state government gains from their reports of fraudulent public spending as an incentive to stop wrongdoing.
"It's time the people of Kentucky had a leader with integrity and conviction to make good on his or her word," said Beshear. "Under my leadership, I will ensure that Frankfort serves as a model of open and honest government and Kentucky again becomes a place its citizens are proud to call home."