Ryan Quarles Pays Appointee $115,000 While He Misses Most Work Days Campaigning

General Counsel Joe Bilby hasn’t worked a full week since September

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles continues to pay his chief attorney Joe Bilby $115,000 in taxpayer money while he campaigns for judge, even while Bilby misses most work days and has not worked a full week since September.

While even ethics-challenged former governor Matt Bevin mandated members of his administration step down to run for office, Quarles has continued to pay Bilby, even though he is essentially working one day a week while he campaigns.

Bilby only worked two full days in April, three in March and five full days in May, according to his time sheets obtained through an open records request. Bilby worked just 23 full days (out of more than 130) from when he filed paperwork to run for circuit court judge on Nov. 19 until the Kentucky Democratic Party obtained his time sheets in June for his work through May 27.

Administrations requiring appointees to step down while running for office is a bipartisan policy. Both Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Bevin, the Republican former governor who lost to Beshear, both required appointees to resign to run for office.

Quarles, who is now running for governor despite difficulty running the agriculture department, is paying Bilby $115,000 a year in taxpayer funds while Bilby runs to be a circuit court judge in Franklin Circuit and operates his own law firm in Frankfort. 

“Kentuckians shouldn’t be forced to keep paying a full-time candidate $115,000 a year because Ryan Quarles lacks the integrity and leadership to make his friend resign and Joe Bilby shouldn’t keep collecting six figures from taxpayers when he’s only showing up for work a couple of days a week,” said KDP Chair Colmon Elridge. “Ryan Quarles and Joe Bilby continue to demonstrate to Kentuckians why they shouldn’t be trusted in their current jobs and why they’re clearly unfit for a promotion. Even Matt Bevin knew better than to pay political appointees large salaries while they run for office. It stinks, it’s unethical and it’s fiscally irresponsible.”

Chair Elridge pointed out this is from leaders in the same Kentucky Republican Party who voted themselves a pay raise this year while refusing to ensure our teachers and school support staff receive a raise. The Republican majority in the Kentucky General Assembly, some of whom make almost $98,000 a year for their part-time jobs, voted to give themselves a pay raise this year.

“This is another clear sign Republican leaders are in Frankfort to serve themselves – not the people of Kentucky,” Elridge said.

Despite taxpayers spending $115,000 a year, Ryan Quarles doesn’t have a full-time general counsel, which might explain some of the mismanagement in the office including them bungling a program that helps seniors and farmers and their poor response to requests for public records. The Office of Attorney General has ruled against Quarles’s office in multiple open records cases, including determining Quarles and Bilby violated the law by not responding to a request from the Kentucky Democratic Party. 

Quarles, who bungled his own rollout to run for governor, might not see any ethical red flags in keeping his friend on the state payroll in a six-figure job while he’s running to stack the courts in Republicans’ favor, but even Bevin didn’t tolerate political candidates serving in his administration, firing his lieutenant governor’s chief of staff when he announced he was running for secretary of state because of a “policy requiring non-merit employees to resign if they run for elected office.” 

The Beshear administration also has a policy not allowing appointees to run for office, requiring them to step down. Late last year, former state senator Dorsey Ridley stepped down as Director of Emerging Industries in the Beshear administration as he announced his run for county judge executive in Henderson County. 

With the most partisan politicians in Frankfort supporting Bilby’s run for judge, it is also concerning that Quarles is paying Bilby $115,000 in taxpayer dollars while Bilby runs to politicize our courts. A horde of powerful Republican politicians are supporting Bilby’s run including Senate President Robert Stivers and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, with additional contributions from Mitch McConnell’s PAC. Stivers and his wife hosted a country club fundraiser for Bilby. The Franklin Circuit Court judgeship is supposed to be non-partisan. 

Furthermore, the Franklin Circuit Court often sees state government cases, so Quarles is paying a potential judge who could preside over cases Quarles could be a party to as commissioner or, in the unlikely chance Quarles is elected, as governor.

Other partisan politicians and operatives who have contributed to Bilby include: Rep. Phillip Pratt ($1,000), Rep. Thomas Huff ($200), Somerset Mayor Alan Keck ($200), Attorney general candidate Russell Coleman ($500), Sen. Whitney Westerfield ($200), Sen. Jimmy Higdon ($250), former secretary of state Trey Grayson ($250), State Treasurer Allison Ball ($500), and Christine Van Tatenhove ($2,000). 

Bilby, along with the web site for his law firm Bilby Law PLLC that lists him as the only attorney, lists Bilby Law PLLC as a private employer in his annual Statement of Financial Disclosure he files with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. Bilby also lists himself as owner and fiduciary at the firm in his financial disclosure statements, including the one he recently filed for 2021.