The Chatter: How D.C. leadership PACs spend their money, new Ky. Colonels on hold and Gov. Bevin's office sells 237 Derby tickets

05/28/2016 02:18 PM

Golf outings, poolside fundraisers in Beverly Hills, gambling tips from an expert horseracing handicapper and political consultants.

Those are among the items paid for by leadership PACs affiliated with Kentucky’s congressional delegation, according to reports by the Lexington Herald-Leader on Friday.

The newspaper examined how leadership PACs linked to Kentucky’s elected representatives in Washington, D.C., spent their dollars ahead of this year’s election cycle, expenses defended as necessary to help boost fundraising and, in turn, help other like-minded politicians win or retain office.

From the Herald-Leader report, in reference to retiring U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield’s Thoroughbred PAC:

For years, the leadership PAC held a fund-raising event at the reserved poolside cabana of the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Interest groups were invited to make “suggested contributions” of at least $3,000 from their own PACs in exchange for socializing with the congressman against the backdrop of Hollywood glamor. Many Thoroughbred PAC donors came from the energy industry, since Whitfield heads the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

The year 2015 would be no different. Six days after Whitfield announced his retirement, his PAC cut checks to the luxury hotel ($10,000) and two nearby restaurants, Spago Beverly Hills ($7,532) and Maestro’s Steakhouse ($1,145), plus $2,131 for “fund-raising event” airfare. All told, Thoroughbred PAC has paid $53,077 in operating expenses since Whitfield said he was ending his career. It still has $170,004 on hand.

Whitfield spokesman Taylor Booth declined to discuss the Beverly Hills event.

“The Thoroughbred PAC was created and currently operates to support the election of Republican candidates to Congress,” Booth said. “Rep. Whitfield receives no personal benefit from the Thoroughbred PAC, and all receipts, expenditures and reporting are carried out within the regulations set forth by the Federal Election Commission.”

Critics say leadership PACs are one more way for wealthy contributors to buy access to Congress so their concerns can get the highest priority.

“This money basically subsidizes what you would call a ‘political lifestyle’ — fine dining, travel to sporting events and luxury resorts — and the lobbyists and other major donors not only fund that for the lawmakers, they often go along for the weekend,” said Nick Nyhart, president of The Every Voice Center, a Washington nonprofit that works to limit the role of money in politics.

The Herald-Leader also covered U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s Reinventing A New Direction PAC in a separate piece.

Bevin evaluating Kentucky Colonel process

First-year Gov. Matt Bevin is taking a closer look at how Kentucky Colonel honors are awarded, The Associated Press reported Friday.

Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto told the AP that Bevin has stopped issuing the honorary titles but will again soon, saying the administration wants “to ensure we are honoring the significance and supporting the mission of the honorable order.”

More than 85,000 have received the honor, which dates back to the state’s militia days of the early 19th century. Recipients include Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley, Tiger Woods and former Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, according to the report.

Bevin offers 237 Derby tickets this year

Bevin’s office received 237 tickets for this year’s Kentucky Derby available, down from about 360 tickets Churchill Downs sold to ex-Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration in recent years, The Courier-Journal reported Friday.

Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper told the newspaper that tickets were sold to those who requested them on a first-come, first-served basis.

Of those sold, 62 went to guests of either the Economic Development Cabinet or the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, and Stamper called the Derby tickets “a marketing opportunity to promote Kentucky to top executives,” according to the report.

Others were sold to lobbyists and Bevin aides and supporters, the newspaper reported.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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