Dueling Dollars: Outside groups look outside of Kentucky to help in battle for control of House

10/29/2014 05:55 PM

The two outside groups getting most involved in this year’s state House races have relied as much or more on out-of-state donations than contributions from Kentucky in order to influence races that will determine control of the lower chamber.

Democratic super PAC Kentucky Family Values and GOP machine Republican State Leadership Committee have made a lot of noise as they’ve spent hundreds of thousands dollars on advertisements in more than a dozen key districts.

Kentucky Family Values, according to a Pure Politics analysis, has raised more from outside of the state than in with $1,189,000 coming in from labor unions and other groups from outside Kentucky and $952,125 from within the state. However, a large chunk of the outside campaign cash came from a $550,000 contribution from the National Education Association – the national teacher’s union – in August.

Much of the group’s funding comes from labor groups but education unions in particular are big donors to Kentucky Family Values, according to filings with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Meanwhile, the Republican State Leadership Committee has received very few donations from Kentucky, according to a Pure Politics analysis of reports of contributions and expenditures on the IRS website for the 527 political organization. The most up to date numbers for the group show that Yum! Brands of Louisville has contributed a total of $26,084 this year while ResCare of Louisville gave $12,798. Other than those contributions from companies and a few small donations of less than $200, the group shows no other Kentucky contributions.

The group is involved in nine state House races in Kentucky spending a total of $241,494.66 in October on buys for telephone calls, mailers, digital and TV.

GOP’s Targets

Republican State Legislative Committee is spending the most against Democratic Rep. Will Coursey of Symsonia with a total of $74,634.55 spent in October in the western Kentucky race.

Another western Kentucky election comes in second for the group’s spending with $43,791 spent on behalf of efforts to unseat freshman Democratic state Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah.

The race between two former legislators, Democrat Linda Belcher and Republican Mike Nemes, makes it on the group’s list with more than $42,000 spent in the district just south of Louisville.

Other elections targeted by the Republican group include going after Democratic state Reps. Johnny Bell of Glasgow, Jimmie Lee of Elizabethtown and Tom McKee of Cynthiana while also defending Republican Rep. Miles and focusing on open seat elections between Democrat Russ Meyer and Republican Jonah Mitchell in Nicholasville and a Lawrenceburg race between Democrat Kent Stevens and Republican James Tipton.

Sharing polling

The only other contributions and disbursements shown for the group on the IRS website deal with transactions between the organization and the Republican Party of Kentucky.

In two instances, the Republican Party of Kentucky gave a certain amount to Republican State Leadership Committee and on the same date, that identical amount showed up as an in-kind donation to the state party in the form of polling.

For instance, on July 31, 2014 the Republican Party of Kentucky contributed $65,990 to Republican State Leadership Committee. Also on July 31, the Republican State Leadership Committee shows $65,990 for polling listed for the Republican Party of Kentucky. The same thing happened again on Sept. 25 of this year.

Normally, parties and outside political organizations are not allowed to coordinate. However, because of a 2012 ruling by the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, this type of transaction is lawful.

In a request for advisory opinion made by Kentucky Family Values, the Kentucky Democratic Party and the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus Campaign Committee asked in part about the “treatment of polling or other information exchanged, transferred or shared among Committees for independent expenditures.”

In the advisory opinion responding to the three Democratic groups, the general counsel for the Registry of Election Finance wrote:

“The unique ability of a party to act as an agent for persons who seek to produce obligated officeholders is all the more reason why an unauthorized campaign committee may not contribute in-kind to an executive committee or caucus campaign committee by ‘sharing’ polling data or other information gathered in its “independent” campaign.

As an alternative, the parties ask if payment of fair market value for KFV’s polling data would make the proposed transaction lawful. The answer to this question is yes, so long as the transaction is made at arms length and KFV makes the data available for purchase by others on the same terms and conditions.”

Democratic Group’s Funds

Of the top five contributors to Kentucky Family Values in the 2014 election cycle, all were unions and three of them were education based. The biggest contributors in 2014 and their amounts are as follows:

  • National Education Association with a total of $550,000 (Washington, D.C.)
  • Better Schools Kentucky with $400,000 (Louisville, Ky.)
  • Kentucky Educators Political Action Committee with $250,000 (Frankfort, Ky.)
  • United Food and Commercial Workers with $161,000 (combination of Louisville, Ky. And Washington, D.C. contributions)
  • American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees with $100,000 (Washington, D.C.)

As Pure Politics has reported, many of the Kentucky Family Values advertisements in competitive races end with a statement about out-of-state agendas being funded by out-of-state money.

“Ryan Quarles has taken a pledge to impose an out-of-state agenda on Kentucky that includes passing right-to-work legislation that would hurt middle class families- even non-union families,” a mailer against state Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, states. “Quarles and his Republican allies are pushing a radical out-of-state agenda paid for by out-of-state special interests to help the wealthy and big corporations at the expense of Kentucky’s workers and middle class families.”

Some of the Republicans in the race have expressed problems with the extent to which Kentucky teachers’ and education unions are contributing to the group.

State Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, said she has heard frustration from voters in her district about the ads being run by Kentucky Family Values against her. Miles told Pure Politics that when the irritation is expressed by a teacher in the area, she informs them that much of the group’s money is coming from teachers’ unions.

Similarly, Republican candidate Diane Burns Mackey has expressed anger about the source of the group’s funding and attacks because of a personal connection to the Kentucky Teachers Association.

Mackey, who is running against Democratic Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence, told Pure Politics both she and her husband were members of the Kentucky Teachers Association and her son is now a member as he is a high school teacher in the state.

However, in one of the radio ads against Mackey the group tacks onto their out-of-state agenda line with an addition about schools.

“Instead, they’re making false attacks and trying to buy elections in Kentucky…and push their radical agenda to help the wealthy and big corporations at the expense of our schools, families and paychecks,” an announcer says in ads against Republican candidates including Mackey.

The fact sheet for the ad running against Mackey can be found here: KFV Mackey radio ad

Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Steve Robertson the talk from the group about attacks being made by Republicans with out-of-state money is deceitful.

“It serves as another example of hypocrisy,” Robertson said. “Kentucky Family Values is a group with one mission and one mission only, and that is to maintain the status quo. And the status quo is what is holding Kentucky back.”

The out-of-state funding that Kentucky Family Values is referring to their ads, according to the fact sheets provided to Pure Politics, is a jab at the Republican State Leadership Committee.

As Pure Politics has reported, the Washington, D.C.-based group has also been involved in state House races in the state through ads and mailers.

The Kentucky Family Values fact sheets cite OpenSecrets.org numbers that show the top 15 donors to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which includes: Reynolds American, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Koch Industries and others.

About Pure Politics

Pure Politics airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET and again at 11:30 p.m. ET in all of cn|2's Kentucky markets. The program features political analysis and news, as well as interviews with officials, candidates, policy makers and political observers.

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