Groups who have been pushing for expansion or for a more measured approach to Lexington’s growth boundary don’t have to disclose donors to those respective causes or register as lobbyists under city ethics rules.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council is expected to vote Thursday on whether to keep the current boundary, expand it or recommend the city build on previous data-driven reports before an expansion can occur.
Two groups have emerged with specific points of view: Lexington for Everyone, which has pushed for an immediate expansion of the city’s urban service boundary, and the Fayette Alliance, which has lobbied for the city to wait until various studies are complete before pushing forward with expansion.
The Fayette Alliance Foundation has been incorporated since 2014. The Fayette Alliance provided its 2021 tax filings to the newspaper. Its top contributors include Greg Goodman of Mount Brilliant Farm, Orrin and Lee Ingram, Bill Shively of Dixiana Farm, and Lexington Sporting Club and Keeneland and Red Mile associations. Most, but not all, of Fayette Alliance’s contributors are involved with farming or agricultural businesses, a review of its contributors over several years shows. In 2021, it raised just north of $915,000 from contributors and other sources of income.
Brittany Roethemeier, executive director of Fayette Alliance, said a recent Fayette Alliance poll of a little more than 300 Fayette County residents showed the majority of those respondents wanted the city to complete all studies before moving forward with an expansion of the boundary.
“Infrastructure is still a top priority,” Roethemeier said the results showed. “How are we going to pay for this?”
Lexington for Everyone first emerged in 2021. According to its social media accounts, it first joined Twitter in August 2021. Its Facebook account was activated around the same time.
It was incorporated as a nonprofit in November 2021, according to Kentucky Secretary of State filings.
Lexington for Everyone has said the city needs more housing, particularly affordable housing, and more land for jobs in its push to get the city to open the urban service boundary. A tax on wages is the city’s main revenue source.
The city last added land to the boundary in 1996 when approximately 5,400 acres was added.
According to its spokesperson, Lexington for Everyone does not have to disclose its donors because it’s a 501 (C)4, a type of nonprofit. The Fayette Alliance is a 501(C)3.
Carla Blanton, a spokeswoman for Lexington for Everyone, said group has asked for an extension from the Internal Revenue Service to file. It refused to disclose its donors to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
“We comply with the regulations that govern us as a 501(c)4, which do not require us to list our donors. Funding comes from local job creators, organizations and individuals who care deeply about this community and want to ensure a bright future for all its residents,” Blanton said in an emailed statement.
Federal guidelines for nonprofit status says nonprofits must provide those tax forms, called 990s, upon request. The guidelines say nonprofits must provide three years of most recent 990s.
On its website, Lexington for Everyone lists its board members in addition to Blanton including:
Rev. Clark Williams, of Shiloh Baptist Church
Raquel Carter, a real estate agent and chairwoman of Board of Adjustment, a Lexington planning body
Rob Shear, general manager of SRC of Lexington
Ray Daniels, Equity Solutions Group who has longtime ties with Commerce Lexington.
Blanton, a communications consultant, is also past president of Commerce Lexington, the city’s business chamber.
Millions of dollars could be at stake.
If the council opts to expand the city’s growth boundary, newly added land or land slated to be added inside the growth boundary will become much more valuable as that land can now be developed. Those landowners have an interest in boundary expansion.
Not required to disclose or register
The Lexington-Faytte Urban County Government’s ethics rules do not require people and groups who lobby the city government to register or disclose how much money the group is spending on lobbying issues before the council, according to city officials.
Lobbying disclosure rules have been debated before but were ultimately nixed, city officials said.
“There is nothing in the Ethics Act requiring lobbyists to register,” said Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city. “There was discussions and a draft ordinance created at some point between 2007 and 2010 about adding lobbyist registration to the Ethics Act. The ordinance died in committee.”
The city’s ethics laws require council members to report any gift over $35.
Vice Mayor Dan Wu, who was first elected to council in November 2022, said he needs to know more before taking a stance on whether Lexington needs to revisit its disclosure laws.
“I’m always a fan of more transparency when it comes to government,” Wu said. Wu oversees the 15-member council.
The state requires lobbyists to register and disclose how much they spend lobbying the General Assembly. The information is a public record through the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission. Those rules were adopted in 1993.
Laura Hendrix, the executive director of the ethics commission, said under the state rules anyone who is being paid to lobby on behalf of a group or entity, regardless of nonprofit status, must register with the ethics commission and disclose who they are being paid to lobby for.
“Our laws don’t distinguish whether it’s an individual or a nonprofit, a 501 (c)3 or a 501 (c)4,” Hendrix said.
Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city, recently adopted rules that would require lobbyists to register with the city. Those rules, which took effect this month, came after a lawsuit that exposed emails and text messages that appeared to show a Louisville Metro Council member was working with a developer to make sure the development moved forward, despite objections from neighbors, according to reports from Louisville Public Media.
Nashville also requires lobbyists and companies they work for to be registered. On the Nashville city government’s website, people can search lobbyists by name or by company name.