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Metro Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21

Metro Councilman Dan Johnson faced a gaggle of reporters before last week’s council meeting, answering questions about his bounced checks, including two bad checks to the city to pay for his personal use of a city-issued cell phone. Johnson also was asked about his campaign’s payment of nearly $5,000 last summer to his current legislative aide Bryan Mathews, as first reported by Insider Louisville earlier that day.

When asked what specific campaign services Mathews provided last summer, Johnson said, “He worked in my campaign setting up fundraisers and stuff,” adding that Mathews also put up yard signs.

After Insider Louisville pointed out Johnson’s campaign did not raise a single dollar last year and asked again if Mathews was setting up fundraisers, Johnson answered, “Yes, we were getting ready for the election this year.”

But Johnson’s filings with the Kentucky Registry of Finance reveal his first campaign fundraiser was on March 25 of this year at Doc Crow’s Restaurant, where he reported raising $1,900. His only other reported fundraiser during his campaign was on April 16 at Republic Bank, where he reported raising $1,381.

Johnson’s claim that Mathews was paid for putting up yard signs matches the explanation Mathews’ attorney gave Insider last week, though the sight of yard signs a full 10 months before a primary election is extremely rare, as is such a large payment for a duty that is usually left to volunteers.

Incorrectly stating the purpose of campaign expenditures on KREF filings is a violation of Kentucky campaign finance laws, though KREF can only investigate such claims if a citizen files a complaint.

Mathews — hired as Johnson’s legislative aide on June 2 with a salary of more than $50,000 — also was involved in Johnson’s debt issues with local businessman Gus Goldsmith, owner of Action Loan Co. Goldsmith says he also loaned thousands of dollars to Mathews earlier this year after Johnson connected the two and vouched for him, though Mathews has not repaid him. Johnson claims he is helping Mathews repay this loan, though Mathews has denied knowledge of this.

At Thursday’s Council meeting, Johnson claimed he paid the city for his personal cell phone use after 5 p.m. Wednesday with his own money. He also denied that he has ever asked fellow council members for money or ever had a gambling debt, as rumored, and said that no one has asked him to resign from office or his leadership position within the Council Democratic Caucus. Caucus chairwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch also said she does not think Johnson should resign from his position.

The Democratic Caucus was in a closed session for over an hour on Thursday discussing a personnel matter, though members declined to discuss who was the topic.

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]