Financial Audit in Kentucky Finds Unusual Spending

A special financial audit of the Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture recently turned up nearly $60,000 worth of gifts purchased for a 2008 gathering of State Departments of Agriculture. While former Agriculture Commissioner Ritchie Farmer is defending the purchases, critics say it is part of an overall record of financial impropriety.

Initially elected in 2003, Farmer served two terms as Agriculture Commissioner before running for Lieutenant Governor in 2011. During his term, Farmer had been a magnet for controversy. In 2011, he declined to participate in budget furloughs mandated by the legislature to help balance Kentucky’s budget. While elected officials cannot deviate from their salaries, Governor Steve Bashear and other elected officials voluntarily donated the portions of their salaries that would be affected. Despite the fact that his employees saw their salaries reduced, Farmer, stating that he didn’t believe in furloughs, declined to follow Bashear’s example.

Later in 2011, Farmer generated more controversy by hiring his girlfriend and one of her friends to Department of Agriculture positions, with salaries of around $60,000.

This management style help push an audit of Farmer’s eight-year tenure as Agriculture Commissioner. The 2008 convention became part of the audit when, after reports surfaced about missing departmental equipment, Farmer returned several missing items along with several rifles he purchased as gifts.

The audit hopes to determine whether Farmer used state funds to pay for gifts at the convention. Gifts included in the conventions ledger include Remington rifles, wine, and cigars. Farmer’s lawyer claims that his client did not spend state money on convention gifts and that corporations, agricultural organizations, and private individuals supplied that 80 percent of the convention’s budget.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer