Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer’s office on Tuesday denied ties to a gubernatorial campaign webpage that has used paid ads, which would have violated state campaign finance rules if the candidate were involved.
Called “James Comer for Kentucky Governor in 2015,” the Facebook page was launched a day after the Republican constitutional officer announced his run for governor.
The site promotes Comer’s speeches and appearances, and also links to his Twitter account and the agriculture department’s government website as its contact. It is unclear who runs the site, but it is using paid ads on the social networking site to promote its content.
Under state rules, gubernatorial candidates are required to file a letter of intent with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance before they can be on the ballot. Those seeking the governor’s mansion must also choose a running mate before being allowed to raise or spend money on their campaign.
“I don’t know who is doing it,” said Comer chief of staff Holly Harris. “That is a grassroots page, I’ve already reached out to try to figure out who is doing it and I have no idea.”
So far, only Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Hal Heiner, both of Louisville, have filed letters of intent and have raised money.
“At this point in time they can’t actually file for office until after the November election,” said Sarah Jackson, the registry’s executive director. “They would actually do that by filing a letter of intent with our office that would give us notice they intend to seek the nomination as a slate.”
Social networking and other changing technologies have made it difficult for state regulators to keep up with monitoring potential violations.
Jackson said the registry would examine any kind of campaign activities online, but she added there are still loopholes in the state’s campaign finance law.
“There are activities on the Internet during the pendency of a campaign or on social media that our laws do not reach in terms of regulating,” she said. “Whether it’s requiring a disclaimer because they may be advertising their candidacy. For those kinds of things there are currently not laws that address the use of social media or the Internet.”
Jackson said using social networking to generate basic interest for a race would not be a violation, but distinguished if a page is paying an individual or group to set up a “glitzy” website to run a campaign.
It’s unclear what individual or group is running the site, and they chose to remain anonymous when contacted by WFPL for this story.
“I truly appreciate your interest,” WFPL was told. “This face book page is not affiliated in anyway with The Kentucky Department of Agriculture or any government entity of any kind.”
The page has a small disclaimer on the Comer for governor Facebook page saying it is a “grassroots” site. It outlines how he favors lowering taxes, protecting Kentucky coal industry, and to “trust Kentucky teachers” over “bureaucrats in Washington.”
Comer is aware of the site, said Harris, but he not calling on whoever is running the page to shut it down.
There’s going to be dozens of these popping up,” said Harris. “We’re going to do the best we can to manage them to ensure that they note that they are grassroots sites. There is no campaign and they’re certainly not affiliated with the (agriculture) department.”
“I would never nor would anybody else at the department tell someone what they can do with political speech.”
Comer plans to officially file his paperwork for governor at an inaugural campaign event in Tompkinsville next month.