Filings show Craft outspending competitors with own money

Published 3:42 pm Friday, April 21, 2023


The Republican gubernatorial primary election is less than a month away, and the top candidates have been busy raising – and spending – campaign funds to edge out their competitors.

As of April 19, according to the latest Kentucky Registry of Election Finance reports, former United Nations and Canada Ambassador Kelly Craft has outspent them all.

Craft’s campaign has accumulated $8.56 million in campaign funds since she announced her candidacy last year, most from self-financed loans and family money.

Craft, who is married to Joe Craft, a coal billionaire who heads Alliance, the fifth largest coal producer in the eastern U.S., has donated over $7 million to her own campaign since Jan. 3.

Several political action committees with interests in coal have supported Craft’s campaign directly or donated to Commonwealth PAC, an unauthorized campaign committee financially supporting Craft through media and advertisements.

Unauthorized campaign committees can raise money for candidates, but cannot coordinate with campaigns directly under current law.

Donors to the Commonwealth PAC include:

  • Joe Craft, who gave $1.5 million;
  • Marwood Land Company, whose president founded Coal-Mac Inc., a coal mining company located in Pikeville, which contributed $25,000; and
  • Frank Calandra Inc., a Pennsylvania mining company, which added $50,000 to Commonwealth PAC’s pot.

Craft told reporters she was unaware of her husband’s contribution and has not coordinated with Commonwealth PAC.

Craft’s campaign has spent $8.15 million in the primary race. The next highest spender is Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who has used over $777,000 of his $1.3 million campaign funds.

Cameron has received support from another unauthorized campaign committee – Bluegrass Freedom Action.

The political action committee has spent at least $765,000 on TV and digital advertisements supporting Cameron, in comparison to Commonwealth PAC’s spending of over $1.56 million on advertisements supporting Craft and attacking Cameron.

Bluegrass Freedom Action’s biggest donors include:

  • The Concord Fund, a conservative advocacy group whose president is a former law clerk for Clarence Thomas, which donated $1.5 million;
  • The CEO and COO of Pace-O-Matic, which owns most of the “gray machines” just outlawed in Kentucky, who combined for a $50,000 contribution; and
  • Terry Hamby, who is on the board of directors of Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a nonprofit working to protect hunting and fishing, who gave over $75,000.

Bluegrass Freedom Action’s support adds to $1.37 million Cameron has received in direct campaign contributions. So far, he’s spent $777,000, with $249,000 on digital advertisements or media. Unlike Craft, he lists no self-contributions in KREF filings.

Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles has all but stayed out of the advertisement wars, spending less than $4,000 on digital advertisements during his campaign.

Now, Quarles has the most campaign funds on hand, $903,000, with a month to go. He told the Daily News he has a “robust media plan” ready to go, but didn’t say when it would launch.

Several political action committees have supported Quarles’ campaign in amounts up to $2,000, including chemical manufacturing company Syngenta Corporation PAC, Duke Energy Corporation PAC, Archer Daniels Midland PAC and Southern Crop Production Association.

Quarles has also not made a personal loan to his campaign, according to KREF.

State Auditor Mike Harmon has raised $84,000 during his campaign, including $10,000 in self-contributions, and spent $70,000 so far.

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck has raised $311,000, including $11,000 in self-contributions, and has spent $257,000.

As the Republican candidates contend for the party nomination, incumbent Democrat Gov. Andy Beshear is also quietly building his re-election fund.

So far, Beshear’s campaign has raised $5.18 million and spent less than half a million.

Defending Bluegrass Values, an unauthorized campaign committee supporting Beshear, has raised $150,000 from the Democratic Governors Association and spent nearly all of it on polling and research.

The primary election will take place on May 16.