TV ads in 31st Senate District getting personal as "cozy" relationships, delinquent taxes follow coal spots

05/09/2016 01:42 PM

First, there were ads on coal and who does and doesn’t support the proverbial War on Coal.

Now, the race for the 31st Senate District has taken a more personal bend, with television ads questioning Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones’ relationship with a local utility operator and bounced checks written by challenger Glenn Martin Hammond intended to cover occupational taxes for his Pikeville law firm.

The back-and-forth comes as voters in the district that includes Pike, Martin, Lawrence, Elliott and Morgan counties prepare to cast ballots in the May 17 primary, which will decide the district’s next senator. No Republican filed for the race.

Hammond dropped an ad April 27 linking Jones with Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.

The spot includes a clip of Clinton’s remarks at a March 13 CNN town hall, when she said her administration’s energy policies will “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Both campaigns said Jones pledged to support the Democratic ticket’s presidential nominee at an April 18 candidate forum in Pikeville, and Hammond’s campaign says that will be Clinton based on the current delegate count.

“Really Ray?” a male narrator says as the ad transitions to images of Jones, Clinton and President Barack Obama. “We need a conservative Democrat who will stand with us.”

Federal Election Commission filings show Jones contributed $1,000 to Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Jones uses another FEC record to say Hammond helped fund Obama’s anti-coal environmental plans.

A male narrator in Jones’ ad, released Tuesday, calls Hammond “a closet liberal” who “wants to destroy coal” as black-and-white images of Hammond and Obama take up the screen.

“Federal Election Commission filings now reveal Glenn Hammond donated big money to his buddy Barack Obama’s war on coal,” the narrator says. “There is a better choice: mountain Democrat Ray Jones, grandson of a union coal miner.”

The ad, recorded from Jones’ re-election Facebook page, can be viewed here:

FEC records show that Hammond contributed $200 to the Democratic National Committee in 2012 but nothing to Obama’s campaigns.

Kim Geveden, who is handling Hammond’s campaign, said the ad intentionally tried to mislead viewers because the FEC document used in the spot is blurred, and he disputed the $200 check as a “big money” contribution. Asked whether Hammond’s 2012 donation to national Democrats is at the center of Jones’ assertion, Dale Emmons, who is managing Jones’ re-election, said the spot “speaks for itself.”

The 31st Senate District race “should not be about the federal election and the Democratic primary,” Emmons said in an interview with Pure Politics.

“That’s not what Ray Jones thinks it’s about,” Emmons said, adding that Jones disagrees with some national Democratic policies and that his focus is on improving the district’s economy.

“His opponent feels differently, and that’s fine. He can feel that way if he wants to. That’s his prerogative. He wants to hang his hat on that, that’s OK. All we’re saying is do what you want to do, but don’t be a hypocrite.”

Things took a more personal turn on Thursday as Hammond released an ad accusing Jones and executives at Pikeville’s Utility Management Group of “conspiring for years.”

A male narrator in the 30-second spot says that Jones has collected thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from UMG executives in his Senate campaigns and “privately lobbied to extend a UMG contract worth millions” in 2009.

“As we struggle to pay soaring utility rate hikes, Ray Jones and UMG’s top executive have gotten rich,” the narrator says. “They even vacation together in Florida.”

The spot includes video of Jones at a 2013 groundbreaking for a Pikeville retail center saying, “We probably need to get somebody from UMG to go get my checkbook out of the car back here.”

Emmons said Jones’ comments were meant as a joke before he began his speech that day and that Hammond’s campaign took them out of context.

Geveden countered that Jones could have joked that he, his wife or someone else should retrieve their checkbook from his car.

“It shows the close, cozy financial familiarity that he has, that Ray Jones has with UMG,” Geveden said of the ad.

Emmons called the spot “completely bogus” and said Jones’ law firm does not provide recurring legal work for UMG.

The company was described as a corporate client of Jones’ firm in a 2009 Appalachian News-Express article, provided by Hammond’s campaign, on the renewed contract between UMG and the region’s Mountain Water District. Jones told the newspaper he spoke with the former judge-executive of Pike County and a MWD board member about the issue before the extension was approved on a 4-1 vote by the water district’s board, although he said he did not attempt to influence the board member’s decision in their meeting.

Jones is being “intentionally” attacked for having friendships with businessmen, “but that doesn’t compromise Ray Jones’ public office,” Emmons said.

“There’s no truth to (Hammond’s) accusations, and it’s just slander,” he said.

“They’re trying to make it sinister or something criminal, but there’s nothing that could be further from the truth. It’s just totally preposterous,” he added.

UMG’s contract with MWD has met some recent controversy.

Kentucky’s Public Service Commission ordered the utility in October to re-bid its management contract after finding that the deal with UMG, which had been amended seven times and renewed in March 2014, had not been publicly bid, according to a news release. The PSC — which approved rate increases for MWD totaling $2.6 million in new annual revenue, down from the utility’s request for $4.2 million in new rate dollars — announced in February that MWD had agreed to pay a $500 penalty for accepting a $500,000 loan from UMG in exchange for extending its contract in 2009 without seeking approval from the commission.

Jones’ campaign countered with an ad Friday featuring Jones and his wife, Paula Ashby-Jones, decrying attacks from Hammond’s camp while raising the issue of the challenger’s delinquent occupational taxes this year.

“Glenn Hammond has had multiple tax liens, failing to meet his obligation as a citizen and to pay his taxes,” Ashby-Jones says in the ad. “Cold checks for payroll taxes, paying only when threatened with prosecution.”

“We’re all in this together,” Jones says afterward. “Let’s focus on good jobs for our people.”

The ad, recorded from Jones’ campaign Facebook account, can be viewed here:

Documents provided by Jones’ campaign show that Hammond’s law office owed delinquent occupational taxes in November, and two checks totaling $4,344 from his law practice were returned due to insufficient funds.

His firm ultimately cut a check for $14,471 on March 31, weeks before receiving an April 15 letter from Pike County Attorney Russell Davis threatening a lawsuit in Pike Circuit Court.

Geveden said Hammond has paid the occupational taxes in question, adding that the candidate is “not wealthy.”

“Like many people, he’s struggled too,” Geveden said of Hammond. “He doesn’t have a big mansion on the hill, an airplane, a Corvette, collector’s Corvette stored in an airport hangar that coal severance dollars paid for.”

“I would wager that half the people in this Commonwealth of Kentucky at one time or another have been late on paying their property taxes,” he added.


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