02/13/2002 12:00AM

Ethics panel clears Churchill

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The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission on Tuesday dismissed a complaint filed against Churchill Downs but sharply criticized the company for making campaign contributions close to the start of the 2002 legislative session.

The complaint was filed in early January by Richard Beliles, the chairman of Common Cause Kentucky, a political watchdog group, after Churchill sent $15,500 in campaign contributions from its political action committee to 25 legislators just four days before the Jan. 8 opening of the legislative session.

In an earlier interview, Beliles called the timing of the donations "egregious." A bill legalizing slot machines at Churchill is expected to be heard by the legislature this session.

The ethics commission said that the donations did not violate any laws. The commission wrote in its order, however, that "we would be remiss if we did not observe that the PAC fell well short of exercising good judgment in making these contributions at the time they were made."

John Asher, Churchil's vice president of communications, said Wednesday that the company was "pleased" that the ethics commission did not rule that the company had violated any laws. But he also said Churchill regretted that "the action may have negatively reflected" on lawmakers and the legislature.

"Given our stature in the community, perhaps we should have held ourselves to a higher standard," Asher said.