Politics

Former Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Jerry Lundergan and Democratic strategist Dale Emmons have been indicted on federal charges of making illegal campaign contributions and conspiring to cover them up.

The charges originated in the U.S. District Court’s eastern district, which includes Lexington, and followed an investigation by the FBI.

Lundergan, 71, is the father of Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, and a friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Dale Emmons is a Democratic political operative who worked on Lundergan Grimes’ campaign for U.S. Senate in 2014.

In an emailed statement, J. Guthrie True, an attorney representing Lundergan, said the evidence will show that Lundergan is innocent. True pointed out that Lundergan Grimes’ opponent in that race was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“This indictment is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law,” True said. “It is no secret that Mr. Lundergan supported his daughter’s bid for higher public service, but his efforts were always within the law.”

In a statement released by Bradford Queen, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, Lundergan Grimes said the allegations stem from a politically motivated complaint.

Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, said the complaint was already investigated “and completely dismissed” by the bipartisan Federal Election Commission.

“I love my father, and I have faith in the judgment and fairness of the people of Kentucky, and believe when all of the facts are in, my father will be vindicated,” Lundergan Grimes said in the statement. “Because this matter is in the courtroom and not the world of politics, I have no further comment.”

Tres Watson, spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky, said it’s “astounding [Lundergan Grimes] would allow this” to happen in her campaign.

“It’s one of most egregious campaign finance crimes to ever occur in the state, and it’s coming out of the campaign of our state’s chief election officer,” Watson said. “It’s astonishing, it’s shocking.”

Kentucky Democratic Party spokeswoman Marisa McNee said in an emailed statement that the party is not in a position to comment on an ongoing investigation.

“We are proud of the work Secretary Grimes has done and know she will continue to be a champion of all Kentuckians’ right to vote as Secretary of State,” McNee said. “We continue to be 100% focused on electing Democrats in November.”

The indictment alleges that Lundergan and another employee of his company, S.R. Holding Company Inc., used the company’s money to pay consultants and vendors to Lundergan Grimes’ 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate — payments that totaled more than $194,000.

According to the indictment, almost $120,000 went to Emmons and his company, and Emmons also used company funds to pay vendors and a campaign worker.

Lundergan and Emmons concealed the payments from the campaign, causing the campaign to unwittingly file false reports with the FEC, according to a Department of Justice press release issued Friday.

Lundergan Grimes was in the news earlier this week after state GOP officials called for a federal investigation into her alleged abuse of power. State Board of Elections Executive Director Jared Dearing sent a letter to board members on Monday accusing Grimes of misusing the voter registration database and ordering staff not to comply with a federal court order.

A bipartisan board that oversees Kentucky’s elections unanimously voted to reaffirm the secretary of state’s role as the state’s chief election officer. Lundergan Grimes told reporters Tuesday she “vigorously” disputed those accusations, calling them bizarre propaganda. 

Lundergan, who was also a state representative, was convicted of an ethics violation in 1989 related to his taking a no-bid $154,000 state contract. That conviction was later overturned.

R.G. Dunlop contributed to this report.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Eleanor Klibanoff covered Rust Belt decline and revival in Pennsylvania. She also worked for NPR and attended the George Washington University.