Costs rise for Beshear inauguration; chair says fundraising is ethical

The price tag on Tuesday’s inauguration event has gone up from Gov. Andy Beshear’s 2019 swearing-in.

The massive inaugural staging affixed to the steps of the state Capitol will cost a little over $418,000, according to state contracts obtained through Kentucky open records requests.

That’s up significantly from the $249,000 expense four years ago. The same company, Illinois-based T and B Equipment Co., was selected to build the stage this year. In both cases, the company was awarded the contract before the conclusion of the election.

This year, T and B Equipment’s work comprises the lion’s share of the stage expense with a $388,000 contract. An additional delivery order documents $30,000 going to Lexington’s EOP Architects for work on the inaugural platform.

There are no budgeted state funds for inaugural activities, but inaugural committees have recently raised more than enough funds to cover the costs.

In 2019, the late Tommy Elliott – a close friend and political ally of Beshear’s killed in the Old National Bank mass shooting in Louisville this year – chaired a committee that brought in just over $604,000. In 2015, co-chairs Joe and Kelly Craft raised nearly $1.1 million for former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s inaugural committee.

Kelly Craft later finished third in this year’s GOP gubernatorial primary.

This year’s inaugural committee chair is Jim Gray, the former mayor of Lexington who serves as the Transportation Cabinet secretary.

Gray deferred questions about a possible conflict between the money-raising aspect of the role and Gray’s oversight of one of the state’s largest contracting bodies – the state highway plan allocates about $1.4 billion per year – to Beshear spokesperson Crystal Staley.

“(Secretary) Gray has followed all applicable rules and laws and has carefully avoided soliciting any inauguration-related funds from those who do business with the cabinet,” Staley wrote to the Herald-Leader..

Staley provided no fundraising goal for the inaugural committee when asked, only stating that “all necessary funding reports will be filed as required.”

Contributions to the inaugural committee do not have to be made public until Jan. 3, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

State lawmakers in 1992 created inaugural committees and charged the state registry to regulate them. There is no limit on how much an individual can contribute to an inaugural committee, but corporations cannot contribute.

Any money an inaugural committee has collected but not spent can be held over for the next inauguration, given to a charity or returned to contributors on a pro rata basis. The unspent money cannot go to a political party.

Elliott will be honored in this year’s ceremony, Staley said. The chair where he sat in 2019 will be left open at Tuesday’s inauguation.

“This gesture will represent Elliott as well as other family and friends lost over these past years. The governor hopes this tribute is also symbolic for other Kentuckians who may have lost loved ones,” Staley said.