Politics

The father of Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has pleaded not guilty in federal court to making illegal contributions to his daughter’s 2014 U.S. Senate campaign against Republican Mitch McConnell.

Jerry Lundergan spoke little during a brief hearing Wednesday in Lexington. But his attorney, Guthrie True, told reporters the charges were timed to hurt the political career of Grimes, who is a potential candidate for governor in 2019.

“This is going to impact the message in these next two elections,” True said. “I’m very disappointed by the timing of these charges.”

The Republican Party of Kentucky continued to target Grimes, with spokesman Tres Watson sending out a news release asking, “What did Alison Lundergan Grimes know and when did she know it?”

“We find it highly doubtful that she was caught unaware by this indictment,” Watson said.
Grimes has called the charges politically motivated and said she believes “when all of the facts are in, my father will be vindicated.”

A federal indictment alleges Lundergan hired consultants and vendors to work for Grimes’ campaign, but he paid for them out of his business account and did not ask for reimbursement from Grimes’ campaign. Federal authorities say that amounts to a campaign contribution. Federal law prohibits companies from donating to U.S. Senate candidates.

The indictment shows Lundergan paid at least $218,000 for services that benefited Grimes’ campaign. At least $138,000 of that money went to Dale Emmons, a veteran Democratic political consultant in eastern Kentucky. Emmons has also been indicted and pleaded not guilty on Wednesday. He and his lawyer declined to comment.

Lundergan has been a fixture in Kentucky Democratic politics for decades. A former state lawmaker and chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party, he’s known for his close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. He did not speak to reporters Wednesday, but his lawyer again predicted the evidence will show Lundergan and Emmons “are not guilty on these charges.”

“It’s disturbing that major corporations and outside sources can come into Kentucky and spend tens of millions of dollars influencing elections in our state under the protection of the first amendment, which I have no complaint about … but that a father could be subjected to criminal charges for using his own resources he’s earned by the sweat of his own brow to help his own daughter run for public office,” True said.

It’s unclear what evidence the government has, but it appears to be extensive. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Smith estimated it would take the government two weeks to present its case to a jury. Magistrate Judge Candace J. Smith said a trial has been scheduled for Nov. 13. True said he will ask for a delay to give him more time to examine the evidence.

The judge released Lundergan and Emmons on their own recognizance until after the trial. But she said neither could leave the state without permission. Lundergan has already received permission to leave Kentucky on Wednesday. True said Lundergan’s companies coordinate disaster relief, and he must go to the East Coast to oversee relief efforts for Hurricane Florence.

True said Lundergan’s company is setting up shelters for about 6,000 people in Virginia, plus lodging and showers for about 15,000 utility workers expected to travel to South Carolina.

This story has been updated.