Corporate dollars keep pouring into Republican Party of Kentucky building fund

McConnell’s chief fundraiser is raising the money for the Mitch McConnell Building

By: - July 24, 2023 5:50 am

The sign outside the Frankfort headquarters of the Republican Party of Kentucky. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Tom Loftus)

FRANKFORT, KY – The $2.65 million donated by some of the nation’s largest corporations to renovate the Republican Party of Kentucky headquarters — the “Mitch McConnell Building” — was raised by the longtime chief fundraising consultant of Sen. Mitch McConnell himself.

Recent reports filed by the Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) Building Fund with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance show that fund has paid $45,000 for fundraising consulting this year to Haney Consulting, a firm owned and operated by Laura Haney.

Mitch McConnell (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The fund’s disclosure reports show the fundraising fees paid to Haney were practically the only spending the fund did in the past year — 96 percent of total spending of $47,068 that also included small payments for a security service, outdoor lighting repairs and a bank fee.

The role played by McConnell’s fundraiser may help explain why all of the fund’s donors are from outside Kentucky and have more significant lobbying interests in Washington than Frankfort.

The most recent report filed by the building fund this month lists one new donor: Telecommunications giant Verizon gave $300,000 June. Here’s the complete list of donors to the fund since late 2022:

‘Potential conflict of interest’

Sheila Krumholz

“That’s a large sum to have been raised so quickly from so few donors, all from out of state. Any one of those factors is surprising,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks money in U.S. politics.

 “The fact that this is for a building project honoring the U.S. Senate Republican leader and funded by companies that could benefit greatly from his support seems a highly plausible motivating factor and, obviously, a potential conflict of interest,” Krumholz said.

Haney is a native of Pulaski County. Federal Election Commission records indicate her company Haney Consulting operates out of Arlington, Virginia, and Louisville. Haney referred questions about her work for the building fund to RPK spokesman Sean Southard.

Kentucky Lantern sent 15 questions to Southard about the building fund project and how the money was raised. But Southard’s emailed response ignored questions about how the money was raised and whether McConnell himself played any role.

“We are following the law and reporting contributions and expenditures as required,” Southard’s response said in part.

As for Haney and her long fundraising history with McConnell, Southard’s response said only that “Laura Haney has done fundraising for Kentucky Republicans for years. She’s fundraised for us, as well as Senators McConnell and Paul.”

Haney has worked for other Republicans. Currently, just as McConnell Chief of Staff Terry Carmack recently assumed a senior role in Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s campaign for governor, Haney is now raising money for Cameron.

The fundraiser

But campaign finance records and what little has been written about the low-profile Haney leave little doubt that — for years — Haney is chiefly a McConnell fundraiser.

Politico reported after McConnell’s 2014 reelection that Haney had served as McConnell’s “chief fundraiser since 2008.” Politico called her “the brains behind Team Mitch’s fundraising operation” who “knows the world of McConnell’s major donors.”

In the acknowledgements section of his 2016 memoir, “The Long Game,” McConnell thanked Haney with this sentence: “Laura Haney, my finance director, has trekked with me from Pikeville to Paducah, and around the country, to make sure I had adequate funding to run my campaigns.”

Federal Election Commission records show that Haney has been paid steady monthly fees for fundraising consulting by McConnell political committees dating back to 2009, whether it is an election year for McConnell or not.

Currently, and dating back to 2021, McConnell’s reelection committee and McConnell’s political action committee each pay Haney $10,000 per month, FEC records show. She also is paid $7,000 a month dating back several years by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group devoted to accomplishing McConnell’s perpetual priority of electing more Republicans to the U.S. Senate.

That adds up to a base income of $324,000 a year from the McConnell committees and the NRSC.

An analysis by the Kentucky Lantern of data on the FEC and Kentucky Registry of Election Finance websites shows that since the start of 2019 Laura Haney (or Haney Consulting, a firm she formed in 2017) have been paid $2,169,800 by federal and state political committees. (Some of that amount — about $130,000 — was for reimbursement of expenses.)

Of that total, about 84% was paid by McConnell committees or committees like NRSC devoted to electing Republicans to the Senate. About 12% of the total was paid by committees affiliated with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, and 4% was paid by other political committees.

Republican Party of Kentucky headquarters at the corner of Capital Avenue and 3rd Street in Frankfort. (Photo for Kentucky Lantern by Tom Loftus)

The donors

In January a report filed by the RPK building fund with the election registry disclosed the initial donors to the project — including the $1 million from Pfizer, the multinational pharmaceutical and biotech company based in New York. This contribution is apparently the largest contribution ever to a Kentucky political party.

Pfizer’s media relations office did not respond to the Lantern’s emailed questions sent in January and again earlier this month.

The big corporation checks were made possible by a 2017 law passed by the Kentucky General Assembly that for the first time allowed corporations to make contributions of unlimited amounts to a building fund of a state political party.

Eight of the nine corporation donors retain lobbyists in Washington, and seven retain lobbyists in Frankfort.

Metropolitan Life Insurance is the one company that lobbies in Washington, but not Frankfort.

Six of the nine donors are among the highest spending lobbying groups in Washington. Pfizer, Comcast, Altria, AT&T, Verizon and Microsoft, all ranked in the top 35 of lobbying spending (of 9,073 groups that lobby) in Washington in 2022, according to the OpenSecrets website.

Only two of the donors — Altria and AT&T — ranked among the top lobbying spenders in Frankfort in 2022.

Krumholz said the corporation donors to the building fund “are among the biggest, most powerful and politically connected corporations in America. NWO Resources stands out as the only one that is not a ‘household name.’’”

NWO Resources is an obscure holding company that owns a natural gas distribution utility in Ohio.

According to some online business information services (Crunchbase and Zippia), James Neal Blue is president and director of NWO Resources. Blue is better known as the chairman and CEO of General Atomics, a national defense contractor with a significant lobbying presence in Washington, and a major political donor, primarily to Republicans.

NWO Resources gave $250,000 last September to the Senate Leadership Fund, a huge super PAC that supports Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and is run by former McConnell staffers. Also, Blue contributed $335,000 to Senate Leadership Fund between 2018 and 2020 and has been a donor to McConnell’s reelection committee, McConnell’s PAC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

No one returned phone messages left last week at the offices of NWO Resources in Colorado.

The project

Southard shed little light on the status of the headquarters renovation. He did not say if a fundraising goal has been set for the project or when work might begin.

“We began this effort a few years ago. In January of 2022, we purchased the lot next door as we embarked on an expansion project to support our organization,” Southard said. “We are taking on this renovation and expansion as we need additional space. We have a lot more staff than we used to and many more Republicans we need to support. We are working on designs. We expect it will be a multi-million-dollar project.”

The $2.65 million raised through June 30 would seem to be a good start in funding a major renovation and expansion of the current headquarters. Records of the Franklin County Property Valuation Administrator list the taxable value of the current headquarters and an adjoining vacant lot owned by the party at a combined $635,000.

Building funds cannot be used by political parties for advocacy or advertising, but only for expenses associated with building or maintaining a party headquarters. John Steffen, the election registry’s executive director, said a building fund is allowed to pay for fundraising consulting to raise money for itself.

Republican Party of Kentucky headquarters in Frankfort. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Tom Loftus)

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Tom Loftus
Tom Loftus

Tom Loftus is a native of Cincinnati and a graduate of The Ohio State University. His long career in Kentucky journalism includes four years as Frankfort bureau chief for The Kentucky Post and 32 years as Frankfort bureau chief for The Courier Journal. He is a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame and a freelance reporter for the Kentucky Lantern.

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