Daniel Grossberg, Democratic candidate for state treasurer
Daniel Grossberg, Democratic candidate for state treasurer

Citing campaign documents and an audio recording of a recent conversation between the two, Democratic candidate for state treasurer Daniel Grossberg is alleging that his campaign’s media consultant, Jacob Conway, threatened to sabotage his campaign unless Conway was paid thousands of dollars more than he was contractually supposed to receive.

The audio of their April 23 conversation reveals Conway unleashing an angry, profane tirade against Grossberg following a campaign event in Bullitt County. In the recording, Conway said he would sabotage Grossberg’s campaign in a number of ways unless he received a payment that he claimed he was owed. Conway threatened to leak damaging information to the media and one of Grossberg’s Democratic primary opponents, Neville Blakemore, in addition to making derogatory remarks against Jewish people. Grossberg is Jewish.

Grossberg denied to Insider Louisville that he owed Conway money, saying Conway knew there was never any contract for what Conway said he is owed. He said Conway engaged in an effort to sabotage his campaign both before and after the recorded conversation, and his attorney said those threats may amount to extortion. Grossberg also said he recorded the conversation and released it to Insider Louisville as a last resort, “to protect me from further harassment and threats. Going public was the only way to stop this.”

In an interview with IL, Conway initially gave an emphatic denial of having ever made such threats toward Grossberg. He also denied having said that Grossberg’s alleged lack of payment is “why people don’t like Jews.” After realizing his words were recorded, Conway backed off those denials, saying his temper got the best of him. However, he reiterated his belief that Grossberg defaulted on an agreement — though he conceded in a follow-up interview that it was never in a contract signed by both parties, but was a “handshake agreement.”

Conway also claimed Grossberg committed campaign finance violations by not disclosing $1,380 worth of personal meals put on the campaign’s account and the debt allegedly owed to Conway’s firm, saying he would file an official complaint with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance on Monday. After initially saying he would provide bank records to prove that claim, Conway later said he was advised not to do so by his attorney and business partner.

Grossberg’s attorney, Shannon Fauver, told Insider Louisville that Conway’s allegations are baseless and not backed up by any evidence. Fauver also said she is “looking for all the legal avenues to prosecute” Conway — in both criminal and civil court — believing that he also continues to violate a letter ordering him to cease and desist from defamation of Grossberg’s character, which was delivered the day after Grossberg recorded the conversation.

In the meantime, the Democratic primary election for the state treasurer’s race is Tuesday, May 19, and Conway no longer has any affiliation with Grossberg’s campaign.

The audio recording

Grossberg said he agreed to hire Conway as his media consultant last year, after Conway pitched his services and campaign experience. A Feb. 9 email provided to Insider Louisville by his campaign shows that Conway agreed to be paid $7,500 in installments during the primary. The campaign also provided invoices showing that Conway’s firm, Splash Digital, was paid $8,000 through the middle of April, $4,500 of which was directly for Conway’s consulting services.

But their relationship started to go south by the middle of March, when Grossberg said Conway suddenly demanded to be paid $10,000 because the campaign was more work than he expected. Conway presented Grossberg with a contract detailing his preferred arrangement, which included a provision where Conway would be paid an extra $5,000 if his services were terminated and gave him intellectual property rights over all campaign materials. Grossberg said he refused to sign the new contract on the advice of his attorney.

Grossberg said over the next month, Conway repeatedly demanded that he sign the contract and pay him the full $10,000. By the middle of April — at which time Grossberg alleges Conway made a series of errors that hurt his campaign — Grossberg said Conway began threatening to destroy his campaign. The alleged threats included holding all his campaign materials hostage until he agreed to Conway’s new terms, and saying he would rather burn them than hand them over to Grossberg.

Jacob Conway
Jacob Conway

On the audio recording from April 23 — a day after Grossberg said Conway made one of these threats — Conway begins by warning that he will sue him because he is “not getting paid,” saying all the money being raised by the campaign is going into Grossberg’s “own pocket.” Conway adds that he recently met with attorney Chris Hartley, a substantial donor to opponent Blakemore’s campaign, “because he’s also involved in politics. So that may not be the best thing in the world.”

On the recording, Conway says Grossberg does not have as much money as he and his business partner at Splash Digital, Justin Chelf, to fight in court. He also suggests that judges whose campaigns he worked on would give him special treatment.

“You think you’re going to go to court against us? “ asks Conway. “Against every judge that’s there on the bench because of me? Let’s go down the circuit court roster. McKay Chauvin, got him elected. Susan Gibson, got her elected. Charlie Cunningham, worked with him. I mean, good luck.”

In addition to his threat to sue unless he received an immediate substantial payment, Conway levels a series of threats to sabotage Grossberg’s campaign, ranging from killing endorsements and fundraising opportunities to leaking damaging information to the media and his political opponents.

Noting that Grossberg was expected to receive the political endorsement of the Fairness Campaign, Conway says on the recording that his business partner would “call (Fairness executive director) Chris Hartman and get you to lose your endorsement,” because Chelf “is really big with the big gays in Louisville.”

In an odd twist, Conway also mentions his role in the saga of another clandestinely taped conversation in 2013: the recording of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign team discussing opposition research by two individuals from the political action committee Progress Kentucky, which was then anonymously leaked to Mother Jones. Conway was the first person to publicly out (to WFPL) Curtis Morrison for bragging about recording the conversation with the help of Shawn Reilly, which soon led to the demise of the group and a federal investigation. In the recording last month, Conway threatens to damage Grossberg as much as he says he damaged Reilly and Morrison unless he was paid.

“If you want to go to war with me, we will go to war,” says Conway. “I will go to war with you, and I will do worse to you than I did to Shawn Reilly and Curt Morrison.”

Conway then threatens to enlist his own mother to trash Grossberg publicly on social media, and warns that if Grossberg ever runs for political office in the future, he will move to his district to run against him.

“My mother will go on Facebook, and she will go on Twitter, and she will embarrass you two weeks before this primary,” says Conway on the recording. “She will make it so you will never get the KEA endorsement no matter what office you run for. And if you fuck me over, I will move and run against you for any office you run in. And I’ll spend as much money as I need. I can print this shit for free.”

Conway also threatens to leak damaging information to the media, as well as to Grossberg’s political opponent, Neville Blakemore, who is thought to be a frontrunner due to his significant fundraising lead.

“The next call I make is to Joe Arnold (of WHAS-11), and I’m going to say that the person who is running to be our next state treasurer doesn’t like to pay his own bills,” says Conway on the recording. “That might make a good news story. Or you know who else might think that’s a good news story? Neville Blakemore.”

After mentioning that someone had recently accused him of sabotaging Grossberg’s campaign, Conway says on the recording that he is willing to do just that.

“Well guess what, buddy?” says Conway. “If I want to sabotage it, I can. Because when I go to the media and say, ‘Take a look at his finance report, he spent $1,380 on eating out with his wife’ … You are committing a fraud.”

Additionally, Conway threatens to cancel a meeting with a potential large donor unless he is paid immediately.

Beyond threats, Conway also makes personal insults toward Grossberg, maligning his Jewish faith with an ugly stereotype.

“You are why people don’t like Jews,” says Conway on the recording. “You are exactly where the term ‘Jew you out of something’ came from. You’re exactly why my grandfather and everybody else I know has had a hard time doing business in this city.”

Conway accuses Grossberg of demeaning him for treating him like a common campaign staffer, when in fact he’s “an independent political consultant who owns an agency that’s worth $500,000.” He also says Grossberg is “inferior” to Chelf because he does not own his house and drives a less-expensive car.

Grossberg rarely speaks in the 13-minute taped interaction, other than to say his attorney would not be back in town to speak with him for four days, and to try to end the conversation and leave. From the audio — and Grossberg’s own account of it — it appears that he kept trying to walk back to his car as Conway pursued him. The conversation ended when Grossberg got into his car and drove away.

Conway makes his case

In an interview this past weekend, Conway said Grossberg owes him $5,500 and that his firm is trying to collect. He said the candidate has “not complained about the work (provided), or anything with me or my employees or associates.”

Asked if he ever threatened to sabotage Grossberg’s campaign if he did not pay that amount, Conway said “that is not true. That is absolutely, 100 percent not true.”

While Conway admitted he did “lose my temper on him,” he added: “I certainly did not threaten to sabotage his campaign. I did point out how would it look if a candidate for treasurer was defaulting on his bills.”

Asked if he threatened to leak damaging information to the media or Blakemore, he said he couldn’t recall doing so, and would not comment on whether he made statements suggesting his relationship with judges would ensure that Grossberg loses a court fight.

“I may have popped off and said some regrettable things,” Conway told IL. “I’m sorry for that, I was angry. I understand he recorded me going off on him or something. And that’s fine. People say things when they’re angry all the time that they don’t mean … I have literally spent the last three months, 12 hours a day, even when I was on vacation in my family’s beach house in southwest Florida, working for him. And this individual has decided to default on paying me the amount on which we agreed.”

Asked if he made derogatory comments about Jewish people, Conway initially answered forcefully with, “No, I did not say that!” However, he soon conceded that he may have done so, blaming his temper and not antisemitic beliefs.

“I have Jewish members of my family,” said Conway. “I’m not a religious person, but if I was to identify myself with one religion, that’s the religion with which I would identify with. So I am not an antisemite or anything like that. And I may have said something along those lines. But like I said, anything that he has me on recording saying, I may have said in the heat of the moment when I was extremely angry.”

Conway added that while his temper “has always gotten me in trouble,” he is “not a terrible person,” and anything he said “does not negate the fact that we have worked extremely hard for him, and he owes about $6,000.”

Conway called IL back after the first interview to confirm he could not provide a contract signed by Grossberg agreeing to pay his firm $10,000, as it was only a “handshake” and “gentleman’s” agreement. He did say Grossberg filled out an invoice at the end of March that noted the total amount owed at $10,000.

Grossberg’s campaign provided that invoice for a $2,500 payment to IL. It shows the $10,000 figure in very small print at the bottom of the page. Fauver, Grossberg’s attorney, said that in no way constitutes a legal contract or any admission that Grossberg ever agreed to pay that amount.

Conway also said he had a bank statement from Grossberg’s campaign showing that he did not disclose more than $1,300 in meals for the candidate and his wife. Though he initially said he would provide this document, he later said his attorney and business partner advised him not to do so.

Fauver said to the best of her knowledge, Grossberg reimbursed the campaign for any dining expenses, which is common practice for candidates. Grossberg also loaned his campaign $12,000 earlier in the race.

While Conway said Grossberg was happy with the actual campaign work he did for him, Grossberg painted a very different picture. A list the campaign provided to IL alleges over two dozen instances of Conway sabotaging the campaign, going against Grossberg’s direct orders, failing to complete important assigned tasks, and campaign finance errors.

The list includes allegations that Conway stole campaign materials, attempted to block endorsements, wiped his electronic calendar clean of all appointments, went against Grossberg’s orders on ad buys, sent solicitation emails to government officials after being told not to do so, failed to build an online presence for the campaign, failed to respond to or reach out to the press, and improperly filled out Grossberg’s application to KET, which resulted in the candidate not being included in the only televised debate with the four other candidates for state treasurer.

Asked if Grossberg would pursue a criminal charge of extortion against Conway in addition to a potential civil suit, Fauver answered: “That will be up to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.”

In next week’s Democratic primary for state treasurer, Grossberg will face Blakemore, former state Rep. Richard Henderson, and current state Reps. Jim Glenn and Rick Nelson.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]