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Metro Councilman Dan Johnson

Metro Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21, finds himself embroiled in more controversy this week as a second Louisville business owner has sued him over a bounced check and money owed. While there is new concern about his legislative staffer being involved with Johnson’s bad debt, Insider Louisville has obtained documents from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance that raise questions as to whether Johnson made improper campaign payments to the same staffer last year before he was hired.

Two weeks ago, The Courier-Journal reported that Edlin Company Fine Jewelers Inc. sued Johnson over a bounced check in the amount of $2,663.50 for the purchase of jewelry in January, which was not repaid. On Tuesday, WFPL reported that Gus Goldsmith, the owner of Louisville-based Action Loan, sued Johnson over an $8,000 check he wrote last September that bounced when Goldsmith recently tried to cash it. Goldsmith made a loan to Johnson in that amount last year, and now says Johnson owes him $15,000 for that and other loans.

On Wednesday, the C-J reported the councilman’s legislative aide Bryan Mathews — who was hired on June 2 — also was involved in the Goldsmith story. Goldsmith says he also loaned thousands of dollars to Mathews earlier this year — with Johnson vouching for him — but that Mathews has not repaid him. Johnson told the C-J he had been helping Mathews repay this loan, though Mathews told the paper he knew nothing of that. Yesterday, Johnson sent a letter to Council President Jim King requesting a full audit of his office’s accounts in order to prove he hasn’t violated the public’s trust with taxpayer dollars.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 11.55.42 AMHowever, an examination of Johnson’s campaign filings with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance shows some peculiar expenditures in the summer of last year, with nearly $5,000 being given to Mathews over the span of one month for what is referred to as “campaign consult(ing).”

Johnson is running for re-election this year, easily defeating one poorly funded challenger in the May primary and currently running unopposed in the general election this November. His KREF filings show that while the bulk of his campaign expenditures occurred from late March of this year through primary day, Johnson gave checks to Mathews totaling nearly 40 percent of his total campaign disbursements for the current cycle in the span of one month in June and July of 2013, in the amounts of $2,490 and $2,400. At that time, Johnson was thought of as a safe incumbent, having faced no challengers in 2010, easily winning in 2006, and with no candidates announcing plans to run against him in 2014. Mathews also was paid $900 for “campaign services” on June 17 of this year.

Though Mathews is active in Democratic politics, he is not known as a high-paid campaign consultant.

When Insider Louisville asked Mathews what campaigns he has worked for as a paid consultant in the past, he answered that he had done so for “many, many campaigns.” When asked what those campaigns were, Mathews referred us to his lawyer, James Craig. Craig told us Mathews has been a paid employee of multiple campaign staffs, but declined to name them, saying those records are available on KREF. But in order to find those details, one would have to ask for the filings of every candidate in Louisville from KREF, as individual disbursements are not commonly listed on their website.

When asked what consulting services Mathews provided to Johnson’s campaign last summer to merit the nearly $5,000 payment, Craig said “he was paid for field work, which is organizing events, managing the print materials, putting out yard signs, distributing bumper stickers.” When asked why he received so much of that money in the summer of 2013, Craig answered that “there was less of a campaign obviously in 2014, because Johnson hasn’t had an opponent, which is why the amount in 2014 was less.”

“(Johnson) was gearing up for the (January 2014) filing deadline,” explains Craig. “After that deadline passed and he didn’t have an opponent, there was less campaign work to do. In anticipation of that deadline, Johnson had extensive campaign activities throughout 2013 and early 2014.”

However, Johnson’s own KREF filings show the bulk of his disbursements for campaign activity — including purchasing print materials from Farley Printing (who do mailers and yard signs), holding fundraising events and phone banks — happened this spring before the primary. Additionally, it seems out of the ordinary for Mathews to receive such a large amount of money for putting up yard signs and holding campaign events in the summer of 2013, considering yard signs usually don’t go up until a month before primary day and Johnson shows no expenditures for holding campaign events until March of 2014.

In comparison, fellow incumbent Metro Council members currently running for re-election spent a far lower amount on their campaigns in 2013. Councilwoman Marianne Butler, D-15, spent $1,992, Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, spent $576, and Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton spent only $50.

Though Mathews was paid $900 by Johnson’s campaign for services on June 17 of this year, Craig says Mathews stopped performing paid services for Johnson after he was hired on June 2. Council staffers are allowed to volunteer on campaigns in their free time but cannot be paid by their campaigns for such work.

Councilman Johnson has not returned a call from Insider Louisville requesting comments on these campaign expenditures, which Kentucky law requires must be used for their stated purpose in KREF filings.

Copies of Johnson’s campaign disbursements from his KREF filings are below:

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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]