By Curtis Morrison
You know how sneaky little creatures always freak out when you turn on the porch light?
Emily Dennis, general counsel for Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, has turned on the porch light.
Dennis has completed her investigation into allegations of impropriety by Mayor Greg Fischer’s Inaugural Campaign Committee. The allegations were made in a complaint I made in December, but Louisville businessman Ed Hart and others later provided Dennis with evidence as her investigation was underway.
Chief among those allegations was that Fischer and his inauguration organizers funneled inaugural funds to the Fischer for Mayor Campaign Fund. Or as Hart described, “a bait and switch,” with Hart contending he thought he was contributing to the inaugural party, rather than helping Fischer pay off his campaign debt.
Later, Fischer would withdraw thousands from the Fischer for Mayor Campaign Fund to repay himself for loans he made to his campaign before the November 2010 election.
Dennis’ findings of, essentially, unintentional wrongdoing, recommends civil penalties rather than criminal, which could have included up to a year in jail.
This recommendation, along with her recommendations to the Registry Board members for a scheduled August 29 Frankfort hearing, have been forwarded to the complainant, which is me, to the original respondents to the complaint and to new respondents that have been added as the investigation developed.
When I requested from Dennis last week notice about the upcoming hearing, she called me directly and stressed how the Registry members do not like her findings to enter the public domain. On the foot of each page of Dennis’ staff report and recommendations:
“PRELIMINARY DOCUMENT NOT TO BE RELEASED WITHOUT REGISTRY’S APPROVAL.”
We’re not talking about classified military secrets here; I shouldn’t have to quote Julian Assange.
Keeping the public in the dark about investigations into ongoing campaign finance violations serves no one but the accused perpetrators of those violations, and my job as a journalist is to NOT keep government secret.
The initial respondents were Mayor Greg Fischer, Jon A. Meyer (campaign treasurer), and Christy Brown (Inaugural Fund Chairwoman). It was the Registry, and not me, who included Brown as a respondent due to her name being listed on a form faxed from Elliott indicating she was the Inaugural Committee’s Chairperson, and not him.
However, Dennis identifies Elliott as “the actual Chairperson of the Fischer Inauguration Committee,” in her recommendations. Now her investigation is complete, new respondents include:
Tommy Elliott, Marty Cogan (the whistleblower who likely leaked the evidence against Elliott and the campaigns), Ruth Payne (treasurer during the primary campaign), John S. Reed (Attorney for Greg Fischer, Christy Brown, and the campaigns), and Andrew G. Beshear (Attorney for Tommy Elliott).
Yes, that Andrew G. Beshear. Tommy Elliott has chosen the son of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to represent him before the Registry’s Board. Three out of seven, or 42 percent, of the Board’s members, were appointed by Elliott’s attorney’s father. Andy writes a 5-page letter to convince all that Elliott is pure as the driven snow.
Elliott is also a Steve Beshear-appointee. Elliott is the Chair of Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS).
Considering news that Beshear’s new budget priorities suggest a plan to funnel more revenue to the underfunded KRS, it’s more than a little awkward that the Registry’s General Counsel believes the KRS Chair “violated KRS 121.170(1) by failing to register as the (inaugural) committee’s Chairperson,” on forms submitted to the Registry.
The complaint’s embarrassment potential for Beshear is just high as it is for Fischer. Previously, Jennifer Moore had been the counsel for Greg Fischer for this complaint, but she was replaced by Reed last week.
In her recommendation, Dennis alleges Cogan violated KRS regulations, which strikes me as inappropriate since he’s kind of the whistleblower who provided the smoking gun email sent to him from Elliott on December 21, 2010:
On u’r [your] list Gaylee is the only one who has maxed out. Everyone one (sic.) could write cks to Greg Fischer for Mayor. Nonie [Cogan] would need to sign yours. Please confirm. TE.
In the end, Dennis believes Elliott and others, violated Kentucky campaign finance laws, but she doesn’t recommend a full-blown criminal investigation and potential prosecution. Instead she recommends civil penalties.
Ultimately, she makes the recommendations, and the Registry Board decides from there.
For the Registry to comply with her recommendations, the Board would need to refer the violations to the Registry’s Executive Director and herself for a process known as conciliation.
(Footnote: In an interview yesterday, Ed Hart’s comment to Insider Louisville regarding Dennis’ finding of unintentional wrong doing: “You can’t beat city hall.”)
About Curtis Morrison: Curtis Morrison is a journalist who blogs at Louisville Courant. Morrison is a political activist, active in historic-preservation efforts. He is a board member of Neighborhoods Planning and Preservation.