Candidates differ over transparency vs. free speech issues raised by Restoring America

10/24/2011 07:37 AM

UPDATED The flak over the Republican group Restoring America hasn’t just been the subject of legal and campaign ad sagas, it’s also inspired debate among the candidates.

Restoring America — an independent 527 group funded by Terry Stephens, the father-in-law of Republican gubernatorial challenger David Williams — is back up on the air with its ads after the Democratic Party challenged it in court for not initially disclosing who was bankrolling it.

But the candidates for governor and attorney general — all of whom are lawyers — are offering different takes on what happened.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said last week that he believes requiring transparency of donors from these independent groups doesn’t infringe on free speech.

However, an outside Democratic group called the Bluegrass Freedom Fund helped Beshear throughout the 2007 election, but didn’t have to disclose donors until March 2008 — several months after the election. Beshear didn’t call for voluntary transparency of that group’s donors during his race.

But that was before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2010 that corporations could give unlimited amounts of money to outside independent groups to get involved in elections.

Independent challenger for governor, Gatewood Galbraith, said he disagreed with Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate’s ruling to issue a restraining order that took Restoring America’s ad off the air for several days last week.

But Galbraith said he also disagrees wit the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for corporations to give unlimited amounts to independent expenditure groups.

On the Republican side, Williams has declined all comment on the case. But he has taken a vote on the issue of disclosures before. In 2005, Sen. Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, sponsored a bill that would have required the so-called 527 to disclose all donations and expenditures.

That bill passed the state Senate 38-0, but was not passed in the House that year.

Republican Attorney General candidate Todd P’Pool, if elected, could choose whether to investigate any campaign finance rule-breaking.

P’Pool, a prosecutor from Hopkins County, told Pure Politics he agrees with the Citizens United ruling, calling it a free speech issue.

But he also said he believes donors should be revealed by independent groups, not hidden.

Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway told Pure Politics earlier this month that he would support campaign finance reforms to explicitly require transparency of outside groups.

-Reporting and video production by Kenny Colston

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