Mar 3, 2012 4:29 PM
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has awarded Kentucky Colonel state honors to campaign contributors and sent out thank you letters on state stationery, blurring the lines between official duties and political work, according to a newspaper report.
The Courier-Journal reported that it obtained a letter sent to some donors and quoted Grimes as writing: "I very much appreciate your help and support to become Kentucky's 76th Secretary of State" (http://cjky.it/ykOBeP).
Ten contributors to her 2011 campaign confirmed this week that they received the thank-you letter and the colonelcy from Grimes, a Democrat. Six contributors contacted said they had not.
Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Zellen says she did not have an estimate of how many colonelcies with this special letter of thanks were mailed, the names of those who received them or the cost. Zellen says she's unsure if someone besides taxpayers paid for the mailings.
Zellen said, "As far as that first sentence of the letter, the secretary thanks people in any public engagement. ... She thanks the people of the commonwealth for giving her the honor and giving her the opportunity to serve as their secretary of state. That's all that was intended to be."
Asked if someone besides the taxpayers paid for the mailings, Zellen said she did not know.
"Once we get the information compiled that you requested, you will see no politics was done on state time and those letters are not political," she said.
Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson says the letters are clearly a "political thank you."
"And if her first act as secretary of state is to act in a political nature like this, that's not what public service is about," he said.
John Steffen, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, said past opinions of the commission make clear that it's improper to use state resources on political activity. But he said he could not comment on any specific situation without knowing the details.
The Kentucky Colonelcy is a common honor given to thousands of persons each year, although the governor's office traditionally issues them with a blue and gold seal. Records show that Gov. Steve Beshear's office was not notified about the colonelcies of the 10 Grimes contributors who confirmed they received them.
Former Secretary of State Trey Grayson said qualifications for becoming a Kentucky Colonel are "sort of like 'making a positive contribution to Kentucky,' which is almost anybody. ... I don't know that anyone has ever been turned down for a colonel."
Grayson said secretaries of state traditionally have carte blanche in awarding colonecies, though technically it is the governor who issues the commission.
Grayson said he gave colonelcies to friends and family members while he was in office, but was "a little uncomfortable" with the first sentence of Grimes' letter.
"You don't use official resources to thank people for their support," Grayson said. "I think that's an important line to draw."
Kerri Richardson, Beshear's spokeswoman, said that she did not know if he issued colonelcies to supporters, but that they are normally issued in response to requests. She said Beshear has never issued them in batches to political supporters and has not accompanied them with letters thanking them for helping him get elected.
Richardson also said the governor honors requests of other state constitutional officers for colonelcies. And in a practice that existed since long before Beshear's election, Richardson said he provides an expedited process for the secretary of state, whose office "prints and must attest to the governor's signature on all colonels."
Richardson said the governor's office has received about 40 names of colonels issued by the secretary of state's office for February and none for January.
However, none of the names of the 10 individuals who told The Courier-Journal they got the Grimes letter and colonelcy are listed among the 1,225 names the governor's office commissioned as colonels in February.
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com
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