Thursday, May 17, 2001

Derby tickets available to Patton's associates

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Some of Gov. Paul Patton's top political supporters and lobbyists with close ties to his administration were among people who bought Kentucky Derby tickets from the governor's office.

        Those able to buy the coveted tickets at face value from Gov. Patton's office this year included Leonard Lawson, chairman of Mountain Enterprises road-paving firm, and Rodney Ratliff, state government's chief landlord, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported Wednesday.

        The two are among top contributors to Gov. Patton's political committees. Mr. Lawson is state government's biggest road contractor. Mr. Ratliff leases a half-million square feet of office and warehouse space to state government.

        Some top lobbyists also bought tickets through Gov. Patton's office, including former state Democratic Party chairman Terry McBrayer and Georgetown car dealer Frank Shoop, who is Gov. Patton's chief political fund-raiser and chairman of the Kentucky Racing Commission.

        Nicole Palya, the National Rifle Association's liaison for Kentucky, also got Derby tickets from Patton's office.

        Gov. Patton receives an annual allotment of tickets from Churchill Downs. The governor controlled at least 500 tickets to this year's Derby, about the same as in the past, and allocated a large share to friends, political supporters and lobbyists.

        Gov. Patton was unavailable for comment on this year's list of ticket buyers. His spokesman, Rusty Cheuvront, on Tuesday echoed the governor's past comments that business guests cannot be entertained in a vacuum, so Gov. Patton invites friends who are successful business people to buy tickets.

        “The Derby is an extraordinary opportunity for the governor to entertain economic-development guests and tourism-development guests,” Mr. Cheuvront said. “What better group to have join them than your friends and supporters?”

        The tickets are sold at face value, with checks written to Churchill Downs and collected by the governor's office.

        The Executive Branch Ethics Commission has said the practice does not violate state government's code of ethics. But the commission said it “does not believe that the allocation of tickets to political supporters is advantageous to the entire Commonwealth” and suggested the governor reduce the number of tickets he controls and be “more judicious” in deciding who can buy them.

        Gov. Patton agreed with the commission's suggestion of releasing the names of people who buy Derby tickets through his office but has shunned the other suggestions.

        In the wake of the commission's suggestions two years ago, Gov. Patton said: “We believe it is inappropriate for the commission to recommend that we preclude friends of this administration from participating in this program to promote Kentucky. If we took the attitude that once you become a supporter of this administration we can no longer associate with you, we would have few friends.”

        Churchill Downs officials declined to release the specific number and location of tickets allotted to the governor's office, and officials in the governor's office had no full accounting of the tickets.

        The office released only a list of names of people who bought the tickets it handled for both the Derby and the Kentucky Oaks, run at Churchill Downs the day before the Derby.

        The list included 84 names. Thirty-three are state officials.


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