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Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams used public funds to pay bar association dues

A prominent Kentucky attorney said this was not a legitimate use of taxpayer money

By Josh Israel - October 06, 2023
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Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams responds to the moderator before his interview on statewide television in Lexington, Ky., Monday, May 8, 2023.
Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams responds to the moderator before his interview on statewide television in Lexington, Ky., Monday, May 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Since being elected Kentucky secretary of state in 2019, Republican Michael Adams has spent part of his time working at a private law firm where he is a name partner. Public records show that he also used hundreds of dollars in taxpayer funds to pay for his bar association membership.

Adams, who is running for a second term against Democratic former state Rep. Buddy Wheatley in this November’s election, was charged $317.75 plus a $50 late fee for membership dues by the Kentucky Bar Association in 2021 and $317.75 for his 2022 dues. Emails show he enlisted a staffer in the secretary of state’s office to handle his overdue 2021 dues. The staffer put the charges on a personal credit card and then submitted a reimbursement request on a travel and expense form.

Kentucky’s Constitution requires that the commonwealth’s attorney general be a practicing lawyer, but does not make it a requirement for the secretary of state.

The Kentucky ethics law that governs the secretary of state and other state officers bars them from using state money for their own person benefit: “A public servant shall not knowingly receive, directly or indirectly, any interest or profit arising from the use or loan of public funds in his or her hands or to be raised through any state agency.”

A spokesperson for Adams told the American Independent Foundation: “Secretary Adams routinely briefs and argues election cases on behalf of his Office, at a cost savings to the Commonwealth. Practicing law on behalf of a state agency requires a state law license. After being elected in 2019, he gave up his Kentucky clients and does not use his Kentucky law license to represent private clients.”

But Anna Stewart Whites, a prominent and experienced Frankfort-based attorney, told the American Independent Foundation in an email that Adams’ use of public money for those expenses was improper and noted that he is still marketing himself as a private lawyer:

Since the state receives no benefit from the SOS’ law degree, I would say that his using state funds to pay bar dues/annual membership is equivalent to a “recreational organization” expense and should be found improper. … He gets money and prestige outside his position as SOS BECAUSE of the law degree. While those funds are not related to using his law degree in KY, [he] is listing Kentucky as one of the states he is licensed in on his legal resume/law firm website, so that bar association membership is a defined benefit to him personally and not a benefit to Kentucky.

Whites concluded, “Long way of saying that I do believe that using state funds to pay a Secretary of State’s Bar Association Dues is an improper or unethical use of state funds.”

Adams’ clients have included Republican Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach in his failed 2020 Senate campaign and former Republican Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, according to a January 2023 report by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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