Democratic Supporters Pulling Back From Progress Kentucky

The liberal super PAC Progress Kentucky is moving forward with a planned fundraiser despite a national backlash over controversial attacks on the ethnicity of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell’s wife.

However, many Democratic lawmakers who were once behind the group are either pulling their support or questioning if they will continue to back them.

WFPL first reported on Progress’s online messages accusing former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan, of moving American jobs to China. The group also Tweeted that Chao’s “Chinese (money)” was buying state elections.

Progress executive director Shawn Reilly apologized to Chao late Tuesday evening, and told WFPL the group is going ahead with its first fundraiser scheduled for March 7. The event lists Democratic city officials and state lawmakers as hosts, but at least two are pulling their support altogether.

“Throughout my career I’ve always stood strong against discrimination. I’m appalled at any person or group who unleash attacks based on religion, ethnics, sexual orientation or gender,” says Democratic state Rep. Joni Jenkins of Louisville. “These statements are not only unacceptable they are a distraction from the real issues that face Kentuckians. My name will be taken off the fundraiser for Progress Kentucky.”

When asked about his support of the group, freshman Democratic state Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville denounced the comments about McConnell’s wife, and initially told Kentucky Public Radio’s Kenny Colston he wanted to talk with the group’s leaders before pulling his name.

In a telephone interview with WFPL, McGarvey went further and called the Tweets “despicable,” adding he will not be supporting the group in the future.

“The comments have no place in our political process. I’ve asked Progress Kentucky to remove my name from its upcoming event,” he says.

Others who were listed to lead the fundraising event, however, are not ready to fully distance themselves from Progress even though they disagree with the online comments.

“At this time I’m not going to tell people to abandon Progress Kentucky or the goal (of defeating Mitch McConnell),” says Louisville Metro Councilman Ackerson, a listed fundraising host. “I think at this point there are some questions to still be answered and that those questions will be posed, and from there people will judge what they’re going to continue to do.”

Ackerson says he isn’t attending the fundraiser due to a scheduling conflict, but that his wife did dnate $500 to Progress.

The Republican Party of Kentucky is pressuring the other hosts to drop the group, and wants top Democratic leaders such as Gov. Steve Beshear to publicly condemn Progress’ comments.

“If I had made comments that were coming under this level of scrutiny, I’m sure these same individuals would call for me to be run out of this state on a rail,” says GOP Chairman Steve Robertson. “They need to step up and sever their association with this group. If they’ve given them any money they need to demand that it be given back.”

The chair of the state Democratic Party said Tuesday that Progress’ messages had no place in the Senate race, and national leaders such as Sens. Claire McCaskill and Carl Levin have denounced them.

But the state GOP is also calling on the super PAC to release its donor list, citing its failure to file proper financial disclosure forms.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Progress hasn’t filed its receipt and disbursement records. A letter from the FEC warns Progress’s treasurer the super PAC could face a fine, audit or legal action.

Observers argue Progress was always more of a loosely organized protest group than actual “super PAC” on par with national organizations. Asked about the controversy, former Democratic state treasurer Jonathan Miller, says as the Kentucky U.S. Senate race goes on, more polished third party groups should begin to emerge.

“I’m sure there will be a bunch of independent groups involved on both sides that will be a lot more professional than what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours,” he says.

Reilly has not responded to our further requests for comment.

WFPL’s Kenny Colston contributed to this story.

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