Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels
The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, Inc. (HOKC)
A non-profit charitable organization which provides grants, scholarships, and gifts to approximately 150-300 organizations located throughout Kentucky each year through its Good Works Fund which counts on its support from Kentucky colonels. In 2019 the Good Works Fund raised approximately 2.1 million dollars from Kentucky colonels and supported 265 nonprofits throughout Kentucky.
A simple Internet search also reveals that the charity operates much like a private corporation that markets tobacco, liquor, and other products through an online store which it does not own or operate. None of these sales on closer examination benefit their charitable purposes.
Based on transparent investigations performed in January and February of 2020, we also discovered that the organization is engaged in deceptive business practices using a non-existent membership status with their donors to influence their fundraising efforts and worked directly with a former governor to coerce donors to make contributions to retain the privilege to make nominations of new Kentucky colonels which is controlled by the state. In 2019 they managed to work out a deal that vanity license plates bearing their logo gain them an additional $10 per year donation from Kentucky colonels that want to identify themselves as Kentucky colonels.
While it is assumed that all Kentucky colonels are members of the organization, legally they have no members according to their Articles of Incorporation from 1992 and do not follow the norms or standards for membership organizations in accordance with the Model Nonprofit Act or the US Code; however they do recognize their donors as honorary members and issue membership cards on an annual basis for those who donate each year. Despite this, members as donors have no actual or particular powers or voting rights according to their statutes. They do make a nice membership card though and remain the favorite, because of their alliances with politicians, the image they project as a corporation, and the abundance of public figures that have supported them over the years.
The organization makes and sells branded memorabilia such as coffee mugs, hats, t-shirts, office supplies, apparel, pins, bourbon, cigars, and other personalized gifts to promote their brand, "Kentucky Colonels" which they trademarked in 2003 for merchandising goods sold through their online store, the Emporium and their catalog the Pomperoser. Revenue from the sales do not directly support charitable efforts of the HOKC in the state and are target marketed for sale exclusively to Kentucky colonels.
Under the law the organization is very protective of its store and branding, it prohibits Kentucky colonels from using its name or logotype on business and presentation cards according to an article from their website by their administration where they stated, "Unfortunately, due to trademark protection requirements, we are not able to provide the logo for these purposes. We have, however, located a printer who is willing to print calling cards in low quantities."
The organization has vehemently opposed all of those using the term "Kentucky Colonels" including this organization. According to a USPTO search it was registered in 1992 they registered their name and again in 2003 registered the term with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for merchandising. They have engaged in numerous lawsuits with others that wanted to use or were already using the term including the basketball team the "Kentucky Colonels" a Louisville ABA team, which was a case the HOKC lost.
In 2014, "The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, Inc." trademarked "Kentucky Colonels" to produce and market tobacco products which they sell today. Most recently they trademarked again to sell branded food products in 2019. We have to think what Kentucky colonels may think about sharing their own honorable title with the name of a cigar? Seems like the HOKC is infringing on the rights of the Governor or at least exploiting the ideals of the trademark process by creating a little bit of confusion of their own.
The Internet search we conducted revealed that they trademarked their name and the term "Kentucky Colonels" to exclusively produce, provide, or sell:
- Eleemosynary services, namely, founding of scholarships, equipping playgrounds and the like and to collect historical and cultural material pertaining to Commonwealth of Kentucky
- Providing financial assistance for programs and services of others; providing educational scholarships
- Clothing, namely, shirts, T-shirts, sweat shirts, jackets, vests, baseball caps
- Cigars, tobacco products
- Barbeque sauce; candy; caramel sauce; chocolate candies; chocolate confections, namely, bourbon infused candies; chocolate sauce; marinades; salsa.
Update: Since we published this content the HOKC has filed a new trademark "Kentucky Colonels" on February 17, 2020 to hold commercial trademark rights over "associations" using the mark; and has also filed a lawsuit on February 20th against our organization to stop us, other Kentucky colonels, and other organization from using the term. If they are not stopped Kentucky colonels will lose their rights o exercise their honors and commissions.
According to the organization's history they were founded as a civil society by Governor Ruby Laffoon in 1932. In 1957 they consolidated their association by filing Articles of Incorporation to formalize the society as a corporation that was heavily influenced and affiliated directly with the office of the Governor who appointed a commander and could also appoint generals in each US state. In 1992 they broke away from tradition filing their Restated and Amended Articles of Incorporation removing the connection with the Office of the Governor and their members to become the organization (corporation) they are today.
The organization stated in February 2020, "late one Saturday afternoon in May of 1931, the first meeting of what would eventually become the Kentucky Colonels," when Governor Flem Sampson requested that colonels "formulate a society to more closely band together this group into a great non-political brotherhood for the advancement of Kentucky and Kentuckians". While they may be trying to hold onto these roots by generating an impression of being a membership organization, they have become far removed from the society (brotherhood) they were once established to become and continue under.
While the organization is trying to preserve its historical image and maintain its traditions, the restated and amended articles they filed in 1992 make their intentions clear when they broke away from the state, removed the ability of members to directly interact, they also made the Governor's role an honorary one instead of an official one, and made the clear statement that the organization has no members. The image they strive to maintain today is one based on their own history and traditions without the responsibility of serving or providing services to its members.
Their actions of filing a Federal lawsuit has backfired on them because most of our members also consider themselves members of the HOKC and make donations to the organization annually. Our position is that they work with us to keep the award in the highest esteem and not to interfere with the Government responsible for creating the award, thusfar they have not conceded or found enough goodwill to work together with us understanding the state motto. United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
Our organization has also found that they have manipulated the history of their beginning and the beginning of when Kentucky began the practice of recognizing civilians as Kentucky colonels, a page has been developed on the topic. See First Colonels.