Rep. Tom Riner not fundraising for re-election, says he hasn't been attending "secret" caucus meetings

05/03/2016 12:50 PM

LOUISVILLE — Rep. Tom Riner has served in the House 34-years and now faces two Democratic challengers in the primary, even though he’s facing well-armed and savvy challengers he’s made a decision not to raise funds for his re-election campaign.

The soft-spoken and mild mannered Louisville Democrat has found himself at the center of controversy in the past few years for helping bring to light a sexual harassment case against a fellow Democratic lawmaker and recruiting the Liberty Counsel to assist with Rowan Co. Clerk Kim Davis’ legal defense when she opted to stop issuing marriage licenses. The issues have already become campaign fodder and Riner may not be able to answer in the public realm.

In his decision not to raise funds, Riner said he wanted to show constituents that he won’t be influenced by donations, and that he felt the election should be held on an even playing field.

“As an incumbent we have a built in advantage … In most cases we have a fundraising advantage, and we have a name recognition advantage,” Riner said adding that he wants to change that system.

“Many people think that to be a successful politician you need to raise the most amount of money, and I think that what is a better judge is to look at to look at those of us as incumbents to try to level the playing field to spend as little as possible, not as much as possible.”

With politicians being less influenced to gain corporate donations from political action committees and other groups he said it’s better for the overall system, even if it decreases his chances of returning to Frankfort where he’s represented Louisville’s 41st District since 1982.

“I think the less dependent we are on donations the better off the public is,” Riner said in a phone interview.

Riner has also taken issue with closed Democratic caucus meetings, which he refers to as “secret” meetings among Democratic membership in the House.

Both Republicans and Democrats hold the closed door meetings throughout the session where members discuss the agenda with leadership, ask and answer questions and other organization work takes place.

The Louisville pastor said he hasn’t attended a closed caucus meeting in decades, where he says some of the “most important and controversial legislation” is discussed and voted on among the caucus members.

“Obviously that is a violation of the public’s right to know, so since the 1990’s I haven’t attended secret caucus meetings,” Riner said.

“The only way that I can have an impact as one legislator, and to have any sense of self-respect is to do what I think is right in terms of the public interest, what would the public want me to do,” he said. “To do that sometimes means going against the status quo, going against traditions that have not made us the best we can be in terms of public integrity.”

Pure Politics contacted the office of Rep. Sannie Overly, who is the Majority Caucus Chair in the House of Representatives, seeking access to attendance records for caucus meetings. A staffer for the Paris Democrat said that attendance records are not kept.

Nearly every day in the 2016 legislative session Democrats, minus Riner, met to discuss the daily agenda.

Riner has also been quietly trying to “give back” to the State Treasury, he offered Pure Politics documents showing checks delivered to the treasury from 2002 to 2012 totaling $15,000, and signed by officials with the Legislative Research Commission.

“A good representative gives more than he takes in terms of the salary and everything else. You try to give as much as possible back.”

Riner faces former Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott who raised $17,000 so far in the primary, and Phil Baker who raised just over $4,000, but carries a negative balance of $123 into the final weeks, according to a report filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.