U.S. Court of Appeals upholds Kentucky’s ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th District issued a decision Thursday reinstating Kentucky’s legislative ethics prohibition on gifts and contributions from lobbyists.

The ruling comes after an effort to overturn Kentucky’s quarter-century ban on gifts and contributions to legislators from lobbyists in a lawsuit filed in 2015 by state Sen. John Shickel and others. The decision Thursday reverses a previous ruling on the issue.

Kentucky’s ethics laws were enacted after an FBI investigation in the early 1990s, known as BOPTROT, which led to the indictment of several legislators for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for influencing legislation.

Attorney General Andy Beshear represented the state arguing the state’s strong legislative ethics law help stop corruption and a “pay to play” system in the legislative process.

The Kentucky Chamber, along with the Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky Coal Association and Kentucky Nonprofit Network, filed an amicus brief in the case in support of appeal, urging the Court to uphold Kentucky’s strong ethics laws.

“If upheld, the Order and Permanent Injunction would leave Kentucky’s ethics systems in shambles and open up the floodgates for lobbyists to engage in exactly the type of actual or perceived corrupt behaviors that the law was enacted to shield against. Lobbyists would be free to inundate legislators with gifts of unlimited value—including lavish trips, fancy meals, and all kinds of valuable items—and flush their campaign funds with contributions,” the group stated in the brief.

The court order issued Thursday stated,“Because these laws are closely drawn to further Kentucky’s anticorruption interest, they pass constitutional muster. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the court’s judgment upholding the constitutionality of § 6.767(3), and the dismissal of § 121.150(13) on standing grounds. We VACATE the district court’s judgment as to § 6.811(4), § 6.811(5), § 6.811(6), and § 6.811(7), and REMAND with instructions to dismiss those claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. We REVERSE the court’s judgment as to § 6.751(2) and § 6.767(2), VACATE the permanent injunction in its entirety, and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

In response to the ruling, Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson stated, “Kentucky won today by the court affirming our strong ethics laws which have guided us in the years since BOPTROT, kept our political system relatively clean and discouraged a ‘pay to play’ mentality.”

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Jacqueline Pitts
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