Kentucky attorney general asks FBI to investigate donations to his rival in governor’s race

Jun 22, 2023, 12:39 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office on Thursday asked the FBI to investigate a large infusion of campaign donations linked to a single credit card that flowed to the Kentucky Democratic Party and Gov. Andy Beshear ‘s reelection campaign.

The controversy has major political undertones because Cameron is challenging Beshear in this year’s election showdown for governor in the Bluegrass State. The matchup in Republican-leaning Kentucky is drawing national attention and could offer something of a preview of voter sentiment ahead of 2024 campaigns for president and control of Congress.

While the donations were in multiple people’s names, they were all charged to the same credit card — connected to a Kentucky mayor. The contributions came from the mayor’s family and business connections, according to media reports. The Democratic governor’s campaign and the state party said they moved to refund more than $200,000 that they determined to exceed limits set by law.

But the fallout escalated when Cameron’s office asked the FBI to investigate “circumstances surrounding” the contributions. The letter, sent to the FBI’s Louisville field office, was signed by Deputy Attorney General Victor Maddox. It cited ethics opinions barring the attorney general’s office from investigating.

During a campaign stop Thursday in western Kentucky, Cameron called the matter a “fiasco” and said his office did the “responsible thing” by referring it to the FBI.

Previous state ethics opinions prohibited attorneys general from investigating a governor’s conduct if they become their political opponent.

The Kentucky Lantern first reported on the donations linked to the credit card of Mayor Randall Weddle of London, Kentucky, after analyzing campaign finance reports. The mayor did not immediately return a phone call and email from The Associated Press seeking comment Thursday.

The refunds amounted to $12,000 in contributions made to Beshear’s campaign and $190,000 in donations that went to the state Democratic Party, said Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers.

Beshear, who is seeking a second term, weighed in on the matter Thursday. He said he consistently requires that his campaign “follow the letter and spirit of every campaign finance law. And when any situation arises, to address it with transparency, to do what’s right and to work directly with the regulators. My understanding is that the campaign has met each of those requirements.”

The governor’s political opponents have pounced on the controversy. The Republican Governors Association said the contributions “reek of campaign finance corruption.”

Weddle himself didn’t give to Beshear’s campaign or the state Democratic Party, but relatives and business associates donated to both organizations, the Kentucky Lantern reported.

Last month, his city in southeastern Kentucky received nearly $1.4 million in transportation funding to repair and replace sidewalks along its main street. London was among five Kentucky communities awarded a total of $4.8 million in that portion of transportation funding.

Democrats pushed back against Republican attempts to link the donations to the transportation award for London.

Beshear’s campaign noted the award to London was part of more than $21 million in transportation funding distributed to local governments statewide. The grant program is administered through the state transportation cabinet, whose top executive is appointed by the governor. The cabinet follows strict criteria in awarding the grants, Beshear’s campaign said.

In explaining how the controversy arose, Hyers, the governor’s campaign manager, said it was “brought to our attention” that contributions were made to the campaign and state Democratic Party that exceeded contribution limits.

“The donors themselves raised the issue and expressed the desire to properly remedy the situation,” Hyers said in a release.

The campaign and party have processes to identify excessive contributions and issue refunds, he said, adding, “What was unusual here is that multiple contributions were made on the same credit card.”

Both organizations said they notified state election finance regulators of the situation and have taken steps to prevent similar situations.

“To our surprise, the credit card processor did not notify us that a single credit card was processed multiple times, exceeding contribution limits,” Hyers said. “When donors contribute to the campaign via credit card, we are only able to see the last four digits of the credit cards used for these donations.

“Because the credit card processor did not catch the issue, we have implemented an additional step in our compliance process,” he said.

The state Democratic Party said in a statement that it takes election laws “very seriously” and works with its staff and candidates to comply with the requirements.

The controversy at least temporarily put Beshear’s campaign on the defensive, after weeks of attacks by Democrats trying to connect Cameron to the state’s last Republican governor, Matt Bevin.

Democrats accuse Cameron of failing to hold Bevin accountable for issuing hundreds of pardons and commutations in his final days in office. Cameron, just weeks into his tenure as attorney general, asked the FBI to investigate the flurry of pardons.

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Kentucky attorney general asks FBI to investigate donations to his rival in governor’s race