Cameron’s office asks FBI to investigate $202K refunds from Beshear’s campaign, Kentucky Dems

Published 11:30 am Friday, June 23, 2023

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Kentucky Lantern

The office of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has asked the FBI to investigate circumstances surrounding controversial political contributions made to the reelection campaign of Gov. Andy Beshear and the Kentucky Democratic Party last December.

On Tuesday, Beshear’s campaign manager announced that the campaign and Democratic Party had refunded $202,000 in contributions that the Beshear campaign had determined were in excess of legal limits as to how much a donor can give.

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The Beshear campaign and the Democratic Party originally accepted the donations as legal ones within contribution limits made by numerous people who are relatives of London Mayor Randall Weddle or employees of a company co-founded by Weddle.

But the campaign later discovered that the $202,000 actually was all charged to a credit card belonging to Weddle and his wife, Victoria, and decided to refund those donations.

Intentionally making a political contribution in excess of the limits is a crime. State law limits the amount anyone can give to a campaign for governor to $2,100 per election. The limit on how much anyone can give to a state political party is $15,000 per year.

In response to questions about whether it would investigate the matter, Cameron’s office said late Tuesday only that it was considering its options.

On Thursday, however, Cameron’s office sent a letter to the FBI asking that it conduct an investigation.

That letter, written by Deputy Attorney General Victor Maddox, said: “Please accept this letter as a formal request by the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General for the FBI to investigate the circumstances surrounding contributions in the amount of some $202,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Andy Beshear. These contributions have been the subject of widespread coverage in statewide news outlets. The contributions were ostensibly made by numerous members of the family of London, Kentucky Mayor Randall Weddle and employees of a company he co-founded, but apparently were charged by Mayor Weddle to his personal credit card.”

Maddox stated in the letter that Cameron’s attorney general’s office could not conduct the investigation. The office, he wrote “is barred at present from investigating this matter due to controlling ethics opinions.”

Maddox was apparently referring to an opinion of the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission a few years ago that effectively said that one executive branch official could not investigate another executive branch official if the two officials were facing each other in an election campaign.

Cameron is the Republican nominee for governor in November’s election running against the Democratic nominee, Beshear.

The request from the Attorney General’s Office was sent to the FBI’s Louisville Field Office. The Louisville FBI office did not immediately reply to an email from Kentucky Lantern asking if it would grant the request.

During his weekly press conference, reporters asked Beshear about the donations and the letter to the FBI. The governor said in all of his elections, he has “advised and required that my campaign follow the letter and spirit of every campaign finance law” and to address all situations with transparency and working with regulators.

“My understanding is that the campaign has met each of those requirements, worked directly with KREF (Kentucky Registry of Election Finance), explaining everything they knew about the situation, and worked to remedy it, again, directly with the regulator,” Beshear said. “That is an open transparent way of trying to do what’s right.”

Weddle did not return a phone message left Thursday at the London mayor’s office.

Questions about the large number of relatives of Weddle relatives and friends who made large contributions to the Beshear campaign and Democratic Party were first reported by Kentucky Lantern on April 17.

That report focused on at least $305,000 in donations to Beshear’s campaign and the Kentucky Democratic Party from family members and friends of Weddle.

The bundle of contributions was far larger than those given by traditional large donors to Beshear political causes such as Churchill Downs or the law firm Morgan & Morgan. Moreover, unlike other big donors, none of the Weddle donors had ever before made a big political contribution.

The so-called “bundling” of contributions from members of the same family or business is common – and it’s legal so long as the donor listed as making the contribution voluntarily contributed his or her own money.

Weddle, a Republican, told the Lantern earlier this year he was aware that many family members had donated to Beshear, but insisted he played no role in helping organize or raise those contributions.

Beshear’s campaign manager Eric Hyers declined to be interviewed for that Lantern report. He did respond by email to a list of questions. But his general response ignored questions about the Weddle contributions and other unusual contributions.

“With his steady leadership during difficult times as well as his work fostering a strong economy that is creating tens of thousands of jobs and attracting record private sector investments, we understand generally why many people want to support Governor Beshear,” Hyers said in his response.

After the Lantern published its report, Beshear and his campaign insisted there was no problem with its contributions.

“All of those have been voluntary,” Beshear said of the contributions. “And nothing has or ever will be promised for any type of donation.”

But on Tuesday, Hyers put out a stunning statement that said $190,000 in contributions to the Kentucky Democratic Party and $12,000 in contributions to the Beshear campaign had been refunded because that money had been donated by Randall Weddle’s credit card. Hyers said it was Randall Weddle himself who came forward to tell the campaign that the contributions were made on his credit card. Hyers said the campaign immediately reported the matter to KREF which advised making the refunds.

Since then, some Republicans have linked the Weddle contributions to a $1.4 million grant that the City of London received earlier this year from the Beshear administration to help repair sidewalks in downtown London. But a statement from the Transportation Cabinet last month said there is no such connection because the grant recipients are determined by the cabinet staff using specific criteria for that grant program.