Beshear donates $14,000 to atone for tainted contributions
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general said Monday he has atoned for some tainted contributions to his 2015 campaign by donating more than $14,000 to a government watchdog group — but it’s not clear the group will accept the money.
Andy Beshear, who is running for governor in 2019, said his campaign has sent a check for $14,302.79 to Common Cause of Kentucky. The money is meant to make up for some donations that were illegally funneled to his campaign by his former chief deputy.
But Common Cause of Kentucky chairman Richard Beliles said he is not sure the organization will accept it. He noted that Common Cause is nonpartisan and does not normally accept money from political campaigns. He planned to talk with the group’s national leaders before deciding.
“Maybe by the miracle of transubstantiation, maybe this dirty money can be used for good government. So, we’ll see” said Beliles, who noted he is an unpaid volunteer.
Beshear’s donation comes more than two years after his former chief deputy, Tim Longmeyer, pleaded guilty to masterminding a kickback scheme involving a state contract that he used to illegally funnel campaign donations to Beshear and other Democrats.
Federal authorities have said Beshear did not know about the scheme. But his political rivals have criticized him for taking more than two years to return the money. Beshear said he was waiting for state officials to complete an audit of his 2015 campaign account, which they did in October.
Just how much of Beshear’s nearly $5 million in 2015 campaign contributions was tainted is hard to calculate. Longmeyer testified in a federal trial this summer that he received or controlled up to $400,000 from the scheme. He said he donated or directed about half of that money to political campaigns. State law limits individual contributions to $2,000 per campaign, but Longmeyer would bypass those caps by giving cash to friends and family and telling them where to send it.
Records show Beshear received at least $22,000 from Longmeyer, his family, friends and others associated with the case. But it’s unclear how much of that money is illegal. In October, the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, which at the time consisted of four Republicans and three Democrats, agreed at least $4,000 in donations to Beshear’s campaign could be proven to be illegal.
“There was no reason we could find to believe (that) just because somebody gave (money) that was related to Longmeyer or had some connection there (that) it was necessarily tainted,” said John Steffen, executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Republican Party of Kentucky spokesman Tres Watson said he was glad Beshear had donated the money, but said the amount of money he received in tainted donations “appears to be much higher than the sum he is sending to make good on.”
“He still has a long way to go to get this scandal behind him,” he said.
Beshear made the disclosure during his annual year-in-review news conference with reporters. In addition to running for governor, Beshear said he plans to focus on nine lawsuits his office has filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors. He also said he plans to ask the legislature to pass laws that would create a dedicated fund for drug treatment programs and to train commercial truck drivers to recognize signs of human trafficking.
But with Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, it might be difficult for Beshear to get bills passed in a year he is running for governor as a Democrat.
“I’m not liberal or conservative, I’m practical,” he said. “I start every legislative session with the hope that people will do the right thing.”