Al Cross: Beshear, Cameron feckless with political money

This is mainly about political money, and a little bit about taxpayers’ money getting political.

Most of the recent action in the governor’s race has been about campaign contributions, and both Gov. Andy Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron have some ‘splainin’ to do.

On June 20, my old friend and colleague Tom Loftus reported in the Kentucky Lantern that Beshear’s campaign and the state Democratic Party had refunded $202,000 in excess contributions from relatives of London Mayor Randall Weddle and employees of a business he co-founded.

It was a real head-slapper, to repeat a phrase that Tom likes to use in conversation. For one thing, the campaign and the party reported that Weddle’s bunch, none of whom had ever made a large political contribution, gave $305,500, an amount Tom revealed in a Lantern story on April 17.

Beshear’s campaign wouldn’t answer questions for that story, but more than two months later, campaign manager Eric Hyers said “that the campaign recently determined all of that money was donated on a credit card of Randall Weddle and his wife,” Tom reported in his second story on June 20.

That was another head-slapper because any political operation needs to say “whoa” when a contributor uses the same credit card to make a series of huge donations in the names of different people, which is apparently what happened. After first saying that “the donors” had raised the issue, Hyers told Tom in an email that in fact it was Weddle who “informed the campaign that contributions were made in excess of contribution limits,” and that the campaign “promptly” refunded the money.

Clearly, it wasn’t promptly enough. As Tom noted, “It is illegal for any person to exceed the donation limits by making excess contributions in the names of other people.”

The Weddle group was one of several in the “reverse logistics/liquidation business which re-sells merchandise that has been returned by the original buyer,” Tom reported in April. Weddle, using double negatives, told him that Beshear “has never asked me, or my family, for nothing. And we’ve never asked him for nothing.” The Beshear campaign said it would start checking online contributions for excess amounts. Duh.

Cameron, precluded from investigating Beshear because he’s running against him, asked the FBI to investigate. Then, quickly, Beshear’s party was able to ask the same thing.

On June 22, Roger Sollenberger of the Daily Beast reported that Cameron’s campaign took $6,900 from a Morehead drug-treatment firm his office was investigating for possible Medicaid fraud. The Associated Press reported that officials of the firm said Cameron had “directly solicited” the contributions, which were made online and refunded after the conflict of interest was realized.

Cameron said he was unaware of his office’s investigation of the firm, which made him look about as feckless as Beshear’s campaign.

Such dueling allegations tend to cancel each other out in voters’ minds, but Cameron needs to bone up on an episode that occurred in 1991 when he was 5 years old.

Two weeks before the primary election, Attorney General Fred Cowan was the clear favorite for lieutenant governor, the last time that office was independently elected. Then it was revealed (again by Tom Loftus, then at The Courier-Journal) that Cowan’s campaign solicited contributions from a man four days after Cowan’s office subpoenaed him in a campaign finance investigation. Paul Patton easily won the primary and became governor in 1995.

Cowan said then that he was unaware of the subpoena when he sent the letter pleading for a contribution. Sound familiar, Mr. Cameron?

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This month, two Kentucky congressmen got away with a little audacity that is so common that it isn’t really audacious, but needs notice.

Reps. Hal Rogers of the 5th District and Andy Barr of the 6th issued press releases implying they should share credit for sizeable grants made possible by the new federal infrastructure law – legislation they voted against. That very pertinent fact wasn’t reported in any of the news stories I could find, which largely parroted official press releases.

Beshear, who works with Rogers on Appalachian matters, did him a favor by saying in his release that they both announced the $21 million to expand the major highway that impounds Panbowl Lake in Jackson. Rogers’ office said the state sought his endorsement and that he has long supported that type of funding.

Both Republicans said they had endorsed the state’s applications for the grants, and Barr said there was competition for the $8 million that will build a new railroad overpass in Lexington. But I doubt he had much pull with the Biden administration, which he regularly attacks. Here’s a line for the next such release: “While I voted against this bill, once the money was available, it was my duty to help get some of it.”

Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor at the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. His opinions are his own, not UK’s. He was the longest-serving political writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal (1989-2004) and national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2001-02. He joined the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010.

NKyTribune is the anchor home for Al Cross’ column.