Lawmakers Seek to Swing Executive Branch Ethics Commission Towards GOP

Republican lawmakers are seeking to limit the governor’s power to appoint members to the commission which monitors those lobbying the governor and constitutional officers and executive branch personnel. The bill comes as the agency tasked with upholding ethics is seeking to hire a new director.

House Bill 334, would allow the legislature to reorganize the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. It would increase the commission size from five to seven members while terminating the existing members appointed by the governor and reshuffling who gets to make those appointments.

Under the bill, two of the commission members would be appointed by the Governor with the Kentucky Treasurer, Auditor of Public Accounts, Commissioner of Agriculture, Secretary of State, and Attorney General appointing one member each. Gov. Andy Beshear is the lone statewide elected Democrat, effectively moving the commission under Republican control. The bill’s sponsor argues this legislation gives a voice to the five-elected Republicans in the executive branch of government.

Fines against a disobedient witness or an attempt to corrupt a legislator would be increased under the legislation from $1,000 to $15,000. The bill cleared the full House of Representatives with a party-line vote of 74-24 this week.

“The ethics commission is vital to the success of the Commonwealth, serving as an independent watchdog overall executive branch employees. Kentucky has long been recognized for having one of the most stringent legislative ethics codes in the nation. Now we are strengthening the executive branch side and preventing the sour grapes of the past,” said Rep. Shane Baker, a Republican who filed the bill.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission tells Kentucky Fried Politics they are aware of the bill but have not taken a position on the legislation.

The commission has been conducting a search for a new executive director. Katie Gabhart resigned her position with the commission and is seeking a role as a circuit court judge. The Executive Branch Ethics Commission says they have received 11 applications for the position and will discuss the vacant position and process to replace the director during the March 16, 2022, regular meeting.