Public records should be open for aluminum plant

Published 12:12 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2017

“Wherever public funds go, the public interest follows.”

It’s a commonsense idea, enshrined in Kentucky’s open-records legacy since 1976, but one neither Gov. Matt Bevin nor Craig Bouchard has bought into.

Bouchard is chairman and CEO of Braidy Industries. Bevin personally negotiated the deal that ended in Kentucky buying a 20 percent share of Braidy for $15 million.

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Reasonably enough, public interest has followed, raising many questions about Bouchard, Braidy and the taxpayers’ investment. But they’ve been met with lectures, not answers.

“It’s nonsensical to be asking a private company to tell us who their shareholders are,” Bevin told the Louisville Courier-Journal, which filed an open-records request with the Cabinet for Economic Development (the conduit for the $15 million investment plus about $10 million in incentives), asking for the names of the other shareholders in Braidy.

Bouchard, in a column in Kentucky Today, the online publication of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said the media should “focus on real problems.” He huffed, “this would never be tolerated in the world of private enterprise.”

Come on, guys, you can’t have it both ways. Public money equals public interest.

The issue isn’t whether Eastern Kentucky would benefit from the promised $1.3-billion aluminum rolling mill in the Ashland area that would mean 1,000 construction jobs and about 500 when it’s operational. Of course, that would be a tremendous and welcome economic boon to the region and the state.

But equally important, and essential to Kentucky’s long-term prosperity, is assuring that public money is spent to benefit the public — not a privileged, private few. That’s the point of open records and meetings laws, to avoid the corruption that breeds in secret.

This is not to say that Bouchard and Bevin are doing anything wrong. But there is no way to know while so much remains in the dark.

That’s why the Economic Development Cabinet’s decision to go to court to challenge an attorney general’s ruling that it must reveal the identities of the shareholders is so disturbing.

Bouchard has named only one other of our fellow-investors, Charles Price of Louisville. Price recently hosted a fund-raiser that netted $68,000 for Bevin’s still-active 2015 campaign fund. What about the other investors, have they helped the governor, too?

And, what do we investors know about Braidy or Bouchard, the man who created it?

He founded Braidy last year just after stepping down as CEO of Real Industry Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this November, listing $401 million in debt.

A failed 2007 attempt by Esmark, a company operated by Bouchard and his brother, James, to buy a steel mill near Baltimore prompted a breach of contract lawsuit charging they “deliberately concealed” problems with their financing.

How deeply did Commonwealth Seed Capital, the state-owned investment company that actually invested in Braidy, go into the company’s brief background or that of Bouchard? That, too, we don’t know. In fact, although we taxpayers own all of CSC, we don’t even know much about it, either.

Kentucky legislators must pull back this veil of secrecy surrounding the public’s money.

— From The Lexington Herald-Leader