By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Kentucky Finance Secretary Lori Flanery used her government-issued iPad and state email account earlier this month to solicit contributions for Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s re-election campaign, a move sharply criticized by Republicans.
The Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission said in a June 2006 opinion that political appointees such as Flanery can generally participate in political activity on their own time but “without the use of state resources.”
Flanery said her use of state resources to solicit campaign funds was “unintentional.”
As finance secretary, Flanery serves as the state’s chief financial officer and oversees many state contracts. Beshear appointed her to the $137,868-a-year cabinet post in April to replace Jonathan Miller, who resigned.
In an interview Thursday in her Capitol office, Flanery said she sent emails to about 175 people on Oct. 8 while at home regarding an Oct. 12 fund-raising reception for the Beshear campaign.
The emails, obtained by the Herald-Leader under the Open Records Act, said she and her husband, Kevin Flanery, who is president of Churchill Downs, “cordially invite you to a reception in support of Governor Steve Beshear and Mayor Jerry Abramson Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, noon, at Democratic Headquarters in Frankfort, Kentucky.”
Flanery said she realized the following day what she had done and regretted it. She said she immediately sent an apology email from her home computer to the recipients of her earlier messages.
“Please accept my apology,” she said in an email at 3:01 p.m. on Oct. 9. “My device occasionally flipped from my personal email account to my ky.gov account and I was not aware of this fact until today.”
Another email message she sent out at 8:27 p.m. that day had the same message but added that “the invitation is still valid but was inadvertently sent from the wrong email account.”
Flanery said she canceled the fund-raising reception on Oct. 10.
Asked if she told Beshear about her emails, she said, “I reported the incident to people I felt who needed to know. Immediately.”
The campaign of Republican gubernatorial nominee David Williams condemned Flanery’s emails and accused Beshear of “selling off state government to the highest bidder …”
“Kentuckians need to take a hard look at Gov. Beshear’s fundraising practices and ask themselves if they really want their government operated in such an inappropriate manner,” Williams campaign chairman Donald Storm said in a statement.
Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson said he hopes the ethics commission “will wake up and see that the Beshear campaign is running fast and loose and do something about.”
John Steffen, executive director of the state Executive Branch Ethics Commission, declined to comment on Flanery’s emails, saying he did not want to say anything in case the panel “has to look at this.” He did not elaborate.
Beshear’s office referred a request for a comment about Flanery’s emails to his campaign.
Matt Erwin, a spokesman for the Beshear campaign, said in a written statement that the email was “an innocent mistake.”
“Once she realized her mistake, she immediately sent a retraction email to all recipients, and the campaign immediately canceled the event,” Erwin said. “The campaign strictly follows all rules and regulations governing campaigns.”
Erwin also released an email sent by Jonathan G. Smith, the campaign’s deputy finance director, to Flanery on Oct. 6, two days before she sent out the solicitation using her state email account.
Smith told Flanery that emails about the fund-raising reception would “be much more effective” if she sent them from her personal email address.
“I think it will look like a personal invitation instead of a stranger soliciting funds from your friends,” he said.
Flanery’s emails said individuals can give up to $2,000: “$1,000 on two separate checks with primary on one memo line and general election on the other. Checks should be made payable to Beshear/Abramson 2011.”
State law allows individuals to give up to $1,000 per election. Emily Dennis, general counsel for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, said this year’s statewide candidates in the Nov. 8 general election can still ask for money for their spring primary elections if they maintain an open primary account.
Flanery’s emails also provided information on how to contact her. That was deleted from the emails given to the Herald-Leader but she said it was her personal email address and phone numbers.
Her emails contained the political disclaimer: “Paid for by Beshear/Abramson 2011—Lindy Karns, CPA, Treasurer” and notification that if the email had been sent to a state employee who could not contribute to “please disregard and discard this communication.”
The Herald-Leader also asked for the names of all recipients of the emails but no names were provided.
Flanery said she “blind copied” the emails when she sent them out to protect the privacy of all recipients. To her knowledge, she said, she cannot technically retrieve the names of the recipients.
GOP chairman Robertson said Beshear should “go above and beyond and prove to the press just exactly who received Flanery’s emails by demanding that she open up her email box and reveal all the recipients.”
State records show that Flanery contributed $1,000 to Beshear’s primary election and another $1,000 for his general election. There are no records that her husband, who was state finance secretary from January 2001 to December 2002 in Democratic Gov. Paul Patton’s administration, has given to the Beshear campaign.