Republicans accuse Democrat McKenzie Cantrell of soliciting caucus contributions while registered as lobbyist; Cantrell calls complaint "desperate"

10/14/2016 02:39 PM

The Republican Party of Kentucky has filed a complaint against Democrat McKenzie Cantrell with the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, accusing her of soliciting fundraising dollars at caucus fundraisers for House Democrats during her time as a registered lobbyist.

In an interview with Pure Politics, Cantrell denied requesting donations at the events and said the complaint shows desperation from the GOP.

State law prohibits lobbyists from donating to or fundraising for legislative campaigns but not from attending fundraisers. Cantrell had been paid as a lobbyist for the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, where she works as an employment law attorney, through Aug. 31, KLEC records show.

RPK spokesman Tres Watson, who filed the complaint Thursday, contends that her appearances at caucus fundraisers “was for the purpose of soliciting contributions to the Caucus and through it members of the General Assembly.” He said she attended a July 29 caucus fundraiser and possibly others.

“As she was prohibited from contributing individually to the Caucus, her attendance at this event was as a candidate to help solicit funds for the Caucus Campaign Committee, which, for a registered lobbyist, is a violation of KRS 6.811 and other statutes,” Watson wrote.

“… In addition to Ms. Cantrell’s violations, it would also be a violation on the part of legislators who invited her to the events and/or requested that she solicit contributions to the caucus committee.”

The ethics commission has opined again and again on political activity allowed between lobbyists and legislators.

In June 2005, KLEC found that lobbyists are also barred from giving to legislative caucuses since those will directly benefit current and prospective lawmakers. The next year, the panel ruled that lobbyists can run for legislative office, and in February 2007, the commission ruled that lobbyists can act as co-sponsors or co-hosts of legislative fundraisers as long as they’re not doing so at the direction of their employer or a lawmaker, in any way controlling money raised or sharing in costs associated with the event.

Cantrell defended her attendance at caucus fundraisers, saying she sought advice from KLEC as she launched her campaign.

She said she never solicited funds at the caucus events, and based on her conversation with KLEC Executive Director John Schaaf notifying her of the complaint Friday, Cantrell said she didn’t “see how these allegations are going to pan out for” Republicans. She terminated her registration as a lobbyist after filing her latest report with KLEC through Aug. 31, she said.

Cantrell called the complaint “pretty desperate” as her race against Rep. Denny Butler, R-Louisville, nears the Nov. 8 finish line.

“Republicans think they’re in big trouble in this seat and that I’ve made a lot of gains in this election as a first-time candidate, and they’re throwing everything against the wall and seeing what’s sticking,” Cantrell said in a phone interview with Pure Politics Friday.

That was a point echoed by Daniel Lowry, spokesman for the Kentucky Democratic Party. The ethics commission’s opinion regarding lobbyist co-sponsorship of legislative fundraisers “blows the Republican Party’s complaint out of the water.”

“It’s easy to see that they’re grasping at straws here because they know that McKenzie Cantrell is the top candidate for the 38th district, and she’ll probably win,” Lowry told Pure Politics.

But Watson says his complaint outlines “a clear violation of the law.”

“By filing for office while still being a registered lobbyist, Ms. Cantrell has sailed into uncharted legal waters,” he said in a statement. “While a lobbyist certainly has the right to run for office, the law is also clear that lobbyists cannot help Caucus Campaign Committees.”

The complaint can be downloaded here: RPK Cantrell complaint.pdf


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