Challenging the Rollback of Kentucky’s Ethics Laws on Lobbying State Legislators (Schickel v. Dilger)


At a Glance

Schickel v. Dilger is a challenge to several pillars of Kentucky’s legislative ethics laws that prevent lobbyists from corrupting state legislators with gifts and campaign contributions.

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About this Case

Schickel v. Dilger is a challenge to several pillars of Kentucky’s legislative ethics laws that prevent lobbyists from corrupting state legislators with gifts and campaign contributions. The suit challenges laws that 1) prohibit lobbyists from contributing to the campaigns of Kentucky state legislators and legislative candidates during the legislative session; 2) prohibit such contributions at other times; 3) prohibit legislators from accepting gifts from lobbyists, and; 4) prohibit lobbyists from serving as campaign treasurers or soliciting, receiving, or otherwise directing—i.e., “bundling”—campaign contributions.

The challenged laws were passed in the wake of an infamous public corruption scandal in Kentucky, “Operation BOPTROT,” which led to charges against fifteen Kentucky legislators and lobbyists connected with the horse-racing industry. In response, Kentucky’s legislature passed strong ethics laws to protect its legislative and electoral processes from rampant corruption, as well as to restore Kentuckians’ faith in their government.

A federal trial court upheld the ban on campaign contributions during the legislative session, but struck down the other aspects of the law as insufficiently tailored to the state’s anticorruption goals. The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission (“KLEC”) is appealing to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to preserve all elements of the law as crucial efforts to protect the integrity of its government.[1]

CLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Kentucky’s appeal. CLC is arguing that Kentucky has numerous reasons that justify its stringent efforts to maintain strong ethical boundaries between its legislators and the lobbyists who are paid to influence them. Kentucky’s own history, as well as experience elsewhere, demonstrates the validity and vital importance of strong ethics laws like Kentucky’s, both to prevent corruption and to ensure that public servants actually serve the public’s interest.

What’s at stake

Many states and municipalities have laws regulating the relationship between lobbyists and legislators, including laws limiting or prohibiting lobbyist campaign contributions and bans on lobbyist gift-giving to legislators.

Courts have long recognized that large campaign contributions can create the risk of actual corruption, or at least the appearance of corruption. That risk is heightened when the contributor’s job is to influence the very legislator to whom he or she contributes. States and municipalities are entitled to address those concerns by imposing reasonable restraints on lobbyists’ ability to seek favors from the legislators they lobby with campaign contributions, or to collect cash for their campaigns.

Moreover, lobbyist gift bans are used widely at all levels of government to ensure the integrity of public officeholders. These bans prevent corruption and preserve the public’s confidence that its government is working for the general welfare and is not influenced by lavish gifts.

Similar corruption concerns have prompted more and more states to consider laws comparable to Kentucky’s. As well-financed lobbying of state legislatures increases, it is as important as ever to equip states with the regulatory tools needed to protect against the clear opportunities for abuse presented by a lobbying system that gives narrow interests inordinate sway over both electoral and legislative processes.


[1] Plaintiffs also challenged several aspects of the state’s campaign finance laws, including its contribution limits. See Schickel v. Dilger, No. 2:15-cv-155 (WOB-JGW) (E.D. Ky. June 6, 2017), Most of those claims, which are being separately defended by the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (“KREF”) were either upheld or mooted by intervening legislative action, but they remain at issue on appeal. CLC’s brief focuses on the ethics provisions.

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