With restraining order on ads lifted, debate over Restoring America shifts to 'coordination'

10/20/2011 07:38 PM

Just as a judge lifted a restraining order to allow the Republican group Restoring America to air its ads again, Kentucky Democrats accused the group’s benefactor — Terry Stephens — of coordinating with GOP candidate for governor, David Williams.

Stephens and Williams’ campaign chairman separately denied conspiring on strategy, which would be illegal under campaign finance laws. Candidates’ campaigns and individuals involved in independent expenditure groups are barred by law from coordinating messages and campaign work.

But Williams declined to answer questions about it to Pure Politics after a forum in Lexington Thursday afternoon.

Stephens, who is Williams’ father-in-law, and Restoring America acknowledged publicly on Wednesday that Stephens gave the group its $1.365 million as of its Oct. 7 report with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Restoring America, an independent expenditure group, initially reported to the registry that the money came from a non-profit corporation called Restoring America, Inc.

At the request of the Kentucky Democratic Party, a Franklin Circuit judge issued a restraining order barring the airing of the ads until the donations were disclosed. The judge lifted the restraining order Thursday.

But once Stephens stepped forward as the one who was bankrolling the group,
Daniel Logsdon, the Kentucky Democratic Party chairman, said it raised a whole new set of questions about whether Stephens talked strategy with his son-in-law — which would be illegal under campaign law.

Here’s what Logsdon told Pure Politics on Thursday:

Jennifer Moore, the attorney for the Kentucky Democratic Party, said on Pure Politics on Thursday that “authorities” would have to decide whether it needs to be investigated.

“I don’t know if there’s criminal activity there. But that will be up to the prosecutors,” she said at the 3:50 mark of the video.

But Moore wrote in the party’s petition for the restraining order this week that:
bq. “Upon information and belief, Senator Williams’ father-in-law may be funding the 527 and, thus, the unauthorized campaign committee. If that is the case, then further illegal conduct — coordination between a campaign committee and an unauthorized campaign committee — has occurred and continues to occur. Any discussion of advertising strategy between Senator Williams and his father-in-law or any other contributor to the 527 is in violation of KRS 121.015(6) and constitutes a felony on behalf of the candidate, committee chairperson and contributor(s).”

She said further questions are raised because Stephens held a fundraiser for Williams on Sept. 13 — a week before Restoring America was formed.

The Williams campaign, however, issued a statement to Pure Politics on Wednesday to dispute Moore’s claim of coordination.

“This outrageous allegation is 100 percent false, like most of the things you hear coming from Gov. Beshear’s campaign,” said the statement from Donald Storm, the Williams campaign chairman. “Senator Williams does not take lightly these reckless, defamatory comments and believes that those making them should be held to personal account.”

The campaign did not respond to Pure Politics’ follow-up question about what being “held to personal account” means.

Moore said in the interview (8:55 mark) that she didn’t believe anything she wrote in the petition for the restraining order or has said had been slanderous.

“No … I filed a lawsuit on behalf of my client because an outside group was hiding its contributors,” she said.

The most famous campaign coordination case in Kentucky stemmed from the 1995 governor’s race. A grand jury indicted three men, including Gov. Paul Patton’s chief of staff Skipper Martin, on charges for sharing strategy between Patton’s campaign and union groups that set up an independent expenditure group.

But the standards of what constitutes coordination were never explored in court because Patton pardoned Martin and the other two men in 2003 before their cases went to trial.

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