Ky. Democratic Party claims Bevin violated election laws with email sent to teachers

10/30/2015 02:18 PM

UPDATED: The Kentucky Democratic Party is attempting to warn teachers in the state that Republican candidate for governor Matt Bevin is overstepping the law in his attempts to contact them via email.

KDP Chairman Patrick Hughes said the Bevin campaign’s direct email to teachers is a violation of Kentucky election law.

“Matt Bevin’s refusal to follow state laws in pursuit of his political ambition demonstrates yet again that he lacks the judgement, ethics or temperament to be governor,” Hughes said in a statement. “The fact that multiple public school teachers received Bevin’s campaign propaganda on their government email accounts also raises the question of how Bevin obtained these email addresses in the first place.

“This dishonest, desperate and illegal campaign tactic in the final days of the race is just another example proving why Kentuckians do not trust an ‘East Coast Con Man’ like Bevin to be governor.”

Bevin’s campaign spokeswoman Jessica Ditto called the claims “total desperation” from the Conway campaign in response to recent polling.

“Matt did not solicit contributions or services from teachers, but Jack Conway and the Kentucky Democratic Party will tell any lie they can to try and hide the fact that Jack Conway is an Obama liberal who is losing this election,” Ditto said in a statement. “Matt Bevin will continue to ask all Kentuckians, including teachers, for their vote and will continue to correct the lies that Jack Conway tells daily.”

Bevin’s email addressed to “Bowling Green Ind Teachers,” with the subject line “Open Letter to KY Teachers,” addresses the funding woes within the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. In the email, Bevin says the system is “3-4 years from pension collapse.”

The GOP candidate tells teachers in the letter that he is running to make sure collapse doesn’t happen by switching new hires to a defined-contribution plan. Bevin also says his proposal to move teachers to Social Security would give “current and future teachers new sources of income when they retire.”

The campaign ends the email with a call for teachers to “please vote for the only person in the race who has a plan to protect the benefits you worked for.”

Leaders in the General Assembly are gearing up to address funding issues with KTRS in the next session, but the retirement agency says the state and taxpayers reap no benefits from in moving teachers to Social Security.

Beau Barnes, KTRS deputy executive secretary and general counsel, told Pure Politics in September that a move to Social Security would cost the state more money to the tune of more than $600 million per year.

Regardless of the ability for the plan to address the funding concerns the email could represent an overstep of the law.

Under KRS 121.150 section 22:

“No candidate, slate of candidates, or committee, nor anyone on their behalf, shall solicit a contribution of money or services from a state employee, whether or not the employee is covered by the classified service provisions of KRS Chapter 18A. However, it shall not be a violation of this subsection for a state employee to receive a solicitation directed to him as a registered voter in an identified precinct as part of an overall plan to contact voters not identified as state employees.”

Mark Guilfoyle, lawyer practicing administrative law at DBL Law, who previously served as general counsel, budget director and cabinet secretary for Gov. Brereton Jones, called on the Bevin campaign to cease and desist “its ongoing and apparently illegal activities coercing state teachers’ by using state email accounts to promise them benefits in return for their vote in the General Election.”

In an emailed statement from Guilfoyle sent to Pure Politics by the KDP, Guilfoyle says that violating several sections of statues by the Bevin’s campaign can carry stiff penalties and provides any person “who knowingly violates any of these provisions (state election laws on coercion) shall be guilty of a Class D felony,” A felony conviction in Kentucky can include jail time.

“Failure of the Bevin-Hampton slate to immediately stop this illegal activity may result in the filing of a formal complaint by the Kentucky Democratic Party and its members before the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance and the presentation of these charges before law enforcement officials including the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Franklin County,” wrote Guilfoyle.

However, even if the email is found to be a violation, the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance is constrained by time in looking into the claim. If the KDP files a complaint on Friday, under statute, the Bevin campaign would then be given 15 days to respond to the allegations, and then more time passes before a hearing is held.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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