Political parties squabble over accusations of improper campaign coordination

08/02/2011 04:49 PM

A $1 million donation by the father-in-law of Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams is the latest development to prompt allegations of potential improper campaign coordination.

Terry Stephens, Williams’ father-in-law, gave a $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association on June 22, as The Kentucky Gazette first reported .

Dan Logsdon, the Kentucky Democratic Party’s chairman, questioned the timing of the donation, which came a few weeks before the RGA-affiliated group Bluegrass Prosperity started running ads that back Williams.

“It is absurd to think that Williams is not communicating with his own father-in-law, who it turns out is bankrolling a supposed ‘independent expenditure’ on behalf of Williams,” Logsdon said in a statement.

But according to the Gazette story, Stephens said he made the donation based “on faith” and did not get a promise to earmark the $1 million specifically for Williams.

Mike Schrimpf, the RGA’s communications director, disputed the suggestion that Stephens could “earmark” his $1 million contribution, saying the RGA has a “hard and fast rule” that prevents that.

“We make it very clear to our donors that any money they give can be used in any state we want,” Schrimpf told Pure Politics.

In response to Logsdon’s claim of coordination, Schrimpf said the KDP was pulling “false alarms.”

As far as filing a complaint against the RGA or the Williams campaign, McGrath said the Democratic Party is still mulling its options.

“We haven’t ruled out anything,” he said.

Scott Jennings, a spokesman for the Williams’ campaign, said the campaign had no comment.

Williams is running against Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who wants a second term, and independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith.

Outside groups for both parties have become increasingly involved in elections in recent years – airing ads supporting their candidates and opposing the other party’s candidates. And the rise of these independent groups has wrought a host of accusations that they’ve conspired with candidates.

Any spending by a group like Bluegrass Prosperity has to be made “without any coordination, consultation or cooperation with any candidate” or campaign, according to Kentucky law.

Democratic Party spokesman Matt McGrath said the Democrats are highlighting what they consider a “pattern” between the Williams’ campaign and outside group. In addition to the RGA getting a $1 million donation from Williams’ father-in-law, Democrats have questioned whether Williams’ campaign consultant, Scott Jennings, talked about the campaign with his former college roommate, the RGA’s Michael Adams, who serves as treasurer of Bluegrass Prosperity.

Logsdon issued a statement questioning whether the race came up while the two had a conversation over Twitter on June 12. Jennings and Adams discussed a forthcoming trip to Las Vegas they would be going on, according to the string of Tweets.

“The two have a long friendship and communicated not only since the formation of the PAC, but on the very day the PAC began running ads,” Logsdon said.

Adams doubles as the general counsel for the RGA, who is legally funding the Bluegrass Prosperity group.

“What you’re seeing is a campaign funded by a father-in-law and run by a best friend,” McGrath told Pure Politics Tuesday.

But Schrimpf dismissed the Democrats’ claims as “meritless.”

“Our expenditures are independent and nothing in the Democrats’ press release disputes that fact,” Schrimpf said. “It’s obviously meritless and not worthy of a story.”

But in the 2007 governor’s race, it was the Republican Party of Kentucky that alleged coordination against the Beshear campaign and its campaign manager at the time, Jim Cauley.

A 2007 Associated Press story , the Republican Party of Kentucky’s chairman, Steve Robertson, called for the Beshear campaign to fire Cauley because of past involvement with 527 groups and with members of a 527 group working in favor of Beshear at time, the Bluegrass Freedom Fund.

Cauley had previously worked on several independent groups with the creator of the Bluegrass Freedom Fund, Craig Varoga, and its executive director, Achim Bergmann. Both men had hired Cauley in campaigns and organizations in other states.

The article quotes Robertson as saying it would be “naive” for anyone to believe the three men who had worked together previously would all of sudden not share information with each other.

“To say Bergmann, Cauley and Varoga aren’t coordinating behind the scenes is incredibly naïve,” Robertson said in the article. “These guys are too close to one another to run independent efforts.”

-Reporting by Kenny Colston


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