Campaign finance filings reveal latest Beshear, Cameron controversies

Published 2:28 pm Friday, June 23, 2023

The first post-primary campaign finance report arrived this week, and not without drama for both Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and his Republican challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

The reports included campaign raising and spending in the 15 days before the May 16 primary election and the 30 days after.

While they showed Beshear well ahead of Cameron in overall and post-primary campaign donations, they also revealed several high profile refunds.

An April report by the Kentucky Lantern uncovered a bundle of campaign donations from family members of London Mayor Randall Weddle and employees of a company he co-founded, WB Transport, to Beshear’s campaign and the Kentucky Democratic Party, totaling $305,500.

Many of the donors, which did not include Weddle himself but included his wife, son, daughter, mother, other relatives and several employees, contributed the maximum $2,100 to Beshear’s campaign, despite mostly being first-time political donors.

Bundling campaign donations is legal, as long as each donor is acting of their own accord and is not reimbursed for their donation to circumvent campaign finance laws that only limit the size of individuals’ contributions.

However, after the report broke, Weddle notified the Beshear campaign that several of the Weddle/WB Transport contributions were made with a single credit card in Weddle’s name. The donations totaled $202,000, well beyond the legal campaign contribution limit of $2,100.

The Beshear campaign has refunded $12,000 so far, according to the most recent Kentucky Registry of Election Finance filings. The Kentucky Democratic Party is set to refund the other $190,000, but it has not officially filed with KREF yet.

In June, London was one of five communities to receive a $1.4 million transportation grant from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Republican Party of Kentucky spokesperson Sean Southard released a statement drawing a connection between the grant and the campaign contributions, calling it a “pay-to-play scandal.”

“This is the latest example in a long pattern of Andy and his family getting caught with corrupt campaign contributions or selling off government to the highest bidder. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a governor who doesn’t have to constantly play catch up with ethics and state law?” Southard said.

Beshear’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, for his part, said that the grant was not connected to the campaign donations, and instead was simply the latest in a series of $21 million TAP grants being distributed across the state.

In a June 19 statement, Hyers said the Beshear campaign would be implementing extra due diligence processes for future credit card donations, to avoid similar issues in the future.

“Our campaign always makes a full faith effort to comply with both the spirit and the letter of all campaign finance statutes,” Hyers wrote.

“… We think it is important that campaigns are forthcoming when actions need to be corrected, which is why we are providing this accounting of how this matter came to our attention and the steps we took to make sure that all contributions in our possession are compliant with all campaign finance statutes.”

Cameron has asked the FBI to investigate the Weddle donations. Normally, the attorney general’s office would conduct such an investigation, but due to ethics rules, Cameron cannot launch an investigation against his election opponent.

Late Thursday, Cameron caught some flack of his own for a potential campaign finance-related conflict of interest.

The Daily Beast reported that Cameron accepted $6,900 from six top employees at Edgewater Recovery Center in Morehead. The center is currently involved in one of the attorney general office’s investigations by the Kentucky Office of Medicaid Fraud and Abuse.

The donations were refunded, and Cameron recused himself from the case, several days after an open records request was filed concerning the potential conflict of interest, according to the Daily Beast.

Even after significant refunds, Beshear’s campaign has amassed a sizable campaign war chest while Cameron was busy fighting off several primary opponents.

Since their campaigns launched, Beshear has raised $7.42 million and Cameron has raised $1.51 million.

After accounting for the transfer of remaining primary campaign funds to their general election war chests, Beshear has spent $1.18 million so far, while Cameron has spent $1.49 million.

In the 15 days before the primary and 30 days after, Cameron spent a lot more than he raised – $387,000 versus $61,000 – while Beshear, facing little primary opposition, only added a net $169,000 to his reserves.

Both campaigns and the political action committees supporting them – Defending Bluegrass Values and Preserve, Protect and Defend for Beshear, Kentucky Values and State Solutions for Cameron – have used their money to start airing TV and radio advertisements.

As of June 22, $4.97 million had been spent on ads in the general election, according to Medium Buying.

One of Defending Bluegrass Values’ ads has caused an uproar in the Cameron campaign.

The TV advertisement calls out Cameron for hiring some of the same people who worked during former Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration and allegedly pushed Bevin to pardon violent criminals like murders and rapists on his way out.

The ad claims that Cameron has not appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the pardons for this reason. Cameron’s campaign sent a letter to several TV stations asking them to take the ad down, saying that it was “false, deceptive and misleading.”

The stations have not taken the ads down, as of Friday.