Andy Beshear’s campaign for governor has utilized the free volunteer labor of an employee in the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General to help create and maintain its website over the last 10 months, as the campaign’s finance reports list no disbursements to that employee nor in-kind contributions from the employee to the campaign.
A spokesman for the Beshear campaign, Eric Hyers, first confirmed to Insider Louisville in March that Kenneth Mansfield — then a special assistant in the attorney general’s office and now its deputy communications director — created pages and served as a webmaster for the campaign website since the time of its launch last July.
While there is no prohibition on state workers volunteering or working for a political campaign in their free time, state law requires that any in-kind contribution — providing goods or services to a campaign for free or a less than usual charge — of more than $100 by an individual must be documented and reported by the campaign. Such in-kind contributions must also abide by the $2,000 limit per candidate in each primary or general election.
However, the same statute KRS 121.015 also includes what appears to be a contradictory clause, indicating that services provided free by individuals volunteering their time on behalf of a candidate shall not be construed as contributions.
Speaking only about this statue and accompanying regulations — not the details of Mansfield or the Beshear campaign — the general counsel for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) acknowledged to Insider that while there is some gray area in the law, she assumed a campaign would have to report as an in-kind contribution any service provided to a campaign by an individual who usually gets paid for that service elsewhere.
Hyers first said in March that while the Beshear campaign’s two quarterly filings with KREF last year did not list Mansfield as providing any in-kind contributions for this skilled work — Mansfield served as webmaster for the office of Andy’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear — he expected him to finish his work on the website by the next filing deadline on April 26 and probably be listed as an in-kind contribution on that report.
“I would imagine that on the next report there will probably be an in-kind contribution,” said Hyers. “But to be honest, I’m not a compliance wizard, so I don’t know if that volunteer work is any different than who comes in and makes phone calls or advises us … If our compliance folks say it is (required), then it absolutely will be, it would be on the next report.”
However, the new report filed to KREF by the Beshear campaign at the deadline last Friday listed no payment to Mansfield or in-kind contribution from Mansfield.
Hyers stated in a text Monday morning that an in-kind contribution from Mansfield wasn’t listed because he hadn’t sent that campaign an invoice for his work, adding that “I’m not sure he will” because “anything he did was just volunteering.” Just as he did the previous time, Hyers stated that “we will check the rules and if it needs to be in-kinded, it will be.”
Later that evening, Hyers followed up to state that he spoke with Mansfield and his work is expected to be completed in the next few days, after which “he will send an in-kind invoice.” He added that while such a move is “unnecessary,” the campaign will add it to their next KREF report due in two weeks “just to be safe.”
Before working in the attorney general’s office, Mansfield served as the webmaster and creative director for the entire eight years of Gov. Steve Beshear’s two terms in office. Going back to 2000, he has also served as a webmaster or creative director of the Kentucky Democratic Party, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards and former Congressman Ben Chandler.
The Office of the Attorney General also has specific rules regarding the circumstances in which its employees can work or volunteer in jobs outside the office, aimed at limiting real or perceived conflicts of interest that those roles may create. In order do such outside work or volunteering a request form detailing that work must be filled out and approved by superiors, with a new request required to be submitted if there is a change in that activity.
Mansfield did fill out such an outside employment request form once, but it was in 2016 and did not make any mention of campaign volunteering. In the form, obtained through an open records request, Mansfield requested to be a self-employed, freelance graphic designer — which would include website design and implementation — and was given final approval to do so two months later.
Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown issued a statement to Insider noting that unclassified state employees have no prohibition on political campaign activities in their free time, adding that Mansfield received approval in 2016 for self-employment — which “is only required once, unless there is a change” — in addition to completing ethics training.
Mansfield did not return an email from Insider asking what the monetary value of the services he provided to the Beshear campaign for its website would have been if he provided them in the private sector as a freelancer to a client, as well as if his original 2016 request to do freelance graphic design was sufficient to cover his volunteer work for the Beshear campaign.
KREF’s general counsel, Emily Dennis, told Insider that while there is some gray area in the statute on what constitutes volunteer work and what must be reported by campaigns as an in-kind contribution, she added that “if they’re providing a service that they would ordinarily charge other people for, then you can’t call that volunteer work. That’s the way you make a living.”
While KREF would have to look at the facts and circumstances of each individual case, Dennis also used the hypothetical example of a CPA doing extensive for a campaign, as “it wouldn’t make sense for a CPA to volunteer to be the treasurer of a campaign, because a CPA gets paid to do bookwork for people.”
Asked to comment about the Beshear campaign’s use of Mansfield on their website, his Democratic opponent Adam Edelen issued a statement through his campaign calling it a misuse of state employees that should not be tolerated, especially in that office.
“As State Auditor, I used to see this kind of petty rule bending in small county courthouses but would never expect it in the Office of Attorney General,” stated Edelen. “Using state employees for political work is not a line you should ever approach let alone cross, especially when you are Kentucky’s top law enforcement officer. It shows bad judgment at the best and misconduct at the worst.”
Hyers noted that Mansfield wasn’t the only one helping with the campaign’s website, as they also contracted Louisville company Campaign Deputy for hosting services. The KREF reports of the campaign list seven payments made to the company over the past 10 months for “campaign software,” totaling $5,837.
Edelen’s campaign, which launched in early January, reported spending $4,645 on website services through three and a half months on their lone KREF report filed last week.
Along with House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, the three leading Democratic candidates are set to face off in the party’s gubernatorial primary in three weeks, with winner presumably facing incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin this fall, the strong favorite to win his party’s nomination.