October 29, 2007

Is Kentucky's AG Breaking Election Law?

The Democrats have decided to put Mitch McConnell's Senate seat at the top of their wish list for the 2008 Congressional elections. Several potential candidates have already come forward to talk openly about challenging the Senate Minority Leader, and according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, McConnell may have a tough race. The senior member has a few people polling within sight of the margin of error:

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's popularity has continued to slip, suggesting vulnerability in his 2008 re-election bid. But he would still defeat any of four potential Democratic challengers if the race ended today, a new poll shows. ...

On the positive side for McConnell, the poll showed he'd have at least a 5-percentage-point lead over each of four potential Democratic challengers: U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, state Auditor Crit Luallen, Attorney General Greg Stumbo and former Marine Lt. Col. Andrew Horne -- now a Louisville lawyer. So far, no Democrat has announced to run, although Stumbo has begun raising money to explore whether to get into the race. ...

Stumbo, the attorney general, has said he's on pace to raise $200,000 to test whether to run against McConnell and will conduct a poll next month to see if he is within 10 points.

The Herald-Leader/Action News 36 poll showed Stumbo trailing McConnell by 9 points, 46 to 37 percent.

Stumbo may have more problems than overcoming a nine-point deficit against a powerful incumbent. Since this race has national implications, Stumbo can expect to get a big assist with the DNC and national donors. Given Stumbo's assertion of having already raised some significant cash, I decided to check out where the money has originated -- inside or outside of Kentucky. That would give some indication as to Stumbo's chances of unseating McConnell.

This is where the problem arises. Stumbo didn't file any Q3 FEC reports on his donors. Normally, someone who has started exploratory activities doesn't need to do so -- unless they register that exploration committee with the FEC. Stumbo did exactly that in July, as one can see at this FEC link (the PDFs can be read here). That action makes Stumbo a candidate regardless of whether he calls the committee an "exploratory" organization or not. As the FEC site itself says:

Candidate listings may appear here as a result of draft committees or independent expenditure committees registering with the FEC. If no official documents of an authorized committee appear below, the individual identified here has taken no action to become a candidate.

If he's there, he's registered as a candidate. As a candidate, Stumbo has to file quarterly reports on contributions and expenses. However, the FEC has received no report at all from Stumbo -- at least as shown here. The failure to file a campaign report makes it impossible to see where Stumbo gets his money, and where he spends it.

This certainly appears to be a violation, albeit one that Stumbo can -- and should -- easily remedy. The irony is that Stumbo could have avoided all of this had he and his staff simply skipped the FEC registration until he was ready to jump into the race. It demonstrates a curious ignorance on the part of Kentucky's highest-ranking legal advocate on election law, one that doesn't bode well for any effort to unseat McConnell.


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