Andy Beshear, left, and Daniel Cameron. (Kentucky Lantern photos by Austin Anthony)
FRANKFORT — About $65 million will be spent in Kentucky’s 2023 general election for governor by the campaigns of Gov. Andy Beshear, his Republican challenger Attorney General Daniel Cameron and myriad outside groups advocating one candidate or the other.
Through Oct. 23, the Beshear campaign reported it had raised $18.8 million — three and a half times the nearly $5.4 million that Cameron’s campaign reported it had raised through Oct. 23.
The disclosure reports filed by Beshear’s campaign paint a picture of an aggressive fundraiser who has held 115 fundraising events since the primary election. They tell a story of the advantages of incumbency and a candidate who has raised bundles of contributions from his appointees, state contractors and many other businesses regulated by the state.
Beshear is likely to need every penny.
That’s because Cameron narrows — but does not close — the money gap by raising more than Beshear from the outside groups. It is why television viewers might have the impression they have seen as many Cameron ads as Beshear ads.
Cameron has that edge in outside committee money because he has something Beshear lacks: Billionaires willing to give very big.
Four outside groups funded by billionaire Republican mega-donors Jeff Yass, of Pennsylvania, and Richard Uihlein, of Illinois, have reported spending $9 million on advertising attacking Beshear and promoting Cameron since mid-summer.
Combined with spending by two other big pro-Cameron super PACs, outside groups spent $24 million to help elect Cameron, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Democratic outside groups, the KREF website shows, have spent $17 million to help elect Beshear.
When outside committee spending is added to campaign fundraising, the Beshear side has about $35 million compared to about $30 million for the Cameron side.
Here’s a look at the important political committees raising and spending the big bucks. Included in this list are the executive committees of the state Democratic and Republican parties, which do not directly buy advertising but contribute both cash and “in kind” services to their candidates for governor. Not included in this list are several small outside groups which have spent relatively small amounts advocating for Beshear or Cameron.
Andy Beshear for Governor
What is it? Andy Beshear’s campaign committee.
How big an impact? Massive. Andy Beshear for Governor has raised $18.8 million. (That’s $15.4 million from people, nearly $400,000 from traditional PACs, and $3 million from the Kentucky Democratic Party.) That total is by far the most money ever raised by a campaign for Kentucky governor.
Limit on donations? Yes. Individuals and traditional PACs are limited to giving no more than $4,200. (That’s $2,100 for the primary election plus $2,100 for the general election.)
Disclose its donors? Yes. Donor names must be reported to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Note: Beshear launched his reelection campaign early — on Oct. 1, 2021. The reports filed by the Beshear campaign with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance list 31,000 contributions. Beshear has the huge advantage of being an incumbent governor seeking reelection, drawing maximum contributions from road contractors, his appointees to prestigious state boards like the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees, various businesses closely regulated by the state, and many others eager to stay on friendly terms with the current administration. Also, as an incumbent, he did not draw serious opposition in the primary and could save the early money he raised and transfer it to the general election. Cameron had to spend all the early money he raised to secure his win in the crowded Republican primary. It’s important to note that money given to a candidate’s own campaign committee goes much further than money given to a super PAC for several reasons, primarily because television stations charge super PACs much more for air time than they charge campaign committees of candidates.
Kentucky Democratic Party
What is it: State party executive committee.
How big an impact? Very big. The Kentucky Democratic Party has also aggressively raised money for the past two years allowing it to contribute $3 million in cash directly to the Beshear campaign committee on Sept. 7. The KDP also has contributed $4.5 million in “in kind” services to the Beshear campaign.
Limit on donations? Yes. A person is limited to giving no more than $15,000 per year.
Disclose its donors? Yes. Donor names must be reported to the Federal Election Commission or the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Note: Beshear has likewise been aggressive in raising money for the party since winning election as governor in 2019. While the party supports all of its candidates for state and local office, Democrats in Kentucky hold few high elective offices and the party has focused on retaining the one big office it does hold — the governorship. The close partnership between the party and the Beshear campaign (the party and the Beshear campaign have the same treasurer) has been an under-rated advantage for Beshear in this election.
Defending Bluegrass Values
What is it: The main super PAC supporting Beshear’s re-election. It is affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association, which is its largest donor by far.
Impact? Very big. Defending Bluegrass Values has been a major player, buying ads immediately after the primary election. Through Oct. 23 it raised about $17 million, with the Democratic Governors Association contributing about 80% of that. This is more than triple what the Democratic Governors Association gave to the super PAC supporting Beshear’s election in 2019
Limit on donations? No. A person or corporation or labor union can give unlimited amounts.
Disclose its donors? Yes. Donor names must be reported to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. (But there is a gap here: The largest donor to Defending Bluegrass Values is the Democratic Governors Association. Donors to the Democratic Governors Association prior to July 1 are posted on an IRS website, but donations since June 30 will not be posted until January.)
Note: Defending Bluegrass Values also got significant donations from labor unions and teacher unions. The largest of these other donations were: $1 million from the NEA Advocacy Fund, supported by members of the National Education Association; $400,000 from the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry; $250,000 from the IBEW PAC Educational Fund.
Daniel Cameron for Governor
What is it? Daniel Cameron’s campaign committee
Total raised? $5.35 million. (That’s $4,472,000 from people; $126,000 from traditional PACs; and $752,000 from Republican Party of Kentucky and county GOP committees.)
Impact? Big. While $5.35 million is a lot of money, it is far less than a third of what Beshear’s campaign has raised. Beshear started fundraising seven months before Cameron. And Cameron spent about $1.5 million of what he’s raised in winning his landslide victory in the May GOP primary.
Limits on donations? Yes. A person can give no more than $4,200.
Does it disclose its donors? Yes. Names of donors must be disclosed to Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
NOTE: Cameron’s fundraising has been weak compared to Beshear’s. He lacks the advantages of being the incumbent governor. Also, the biggest Republican donors and fundraisers from Kentucky in recent years — Joe Craft of Alliance Coal and his wife Kelly Craft — have sat this race out so far. Cameron thrashed Kelly Craft in the Republican primary election for governor in May, and Kelly Craft made it clear she is upset with Cameron over attack ads aired against her in the spring.
Republican Party of Kentucky, Frankfort
What is it? Political party executive committee
Impact? Big, but unlike Beshear and the Democrats, the RPK had to wait until after a divisive primary before getting behind Cameron. Also, because Republicans hold so many elective offices (two U.S. senators, five of six U.S. House seats, all five “down ballot” statewide constitutional officers, 111 of 138 seats in General Assembly) the party’s priorities are much more diverse than the Democratic Party. Note that during the general election so far the Kentucky Democratic Party has transferred $3 million in cash to Beshear’s campaign. The Republican Party of Kentucky has transferred only $700,000 in cash to the Cameron campaign. The Cameron campaign reports getting about $1.1 million in “in kind” services from the RPK.
Limits on donations? Yes. A person can give no more than $15,000 per year.
Does it disclose its donors? Yes. Names of donors are disclosed to the Federal Election Commission and the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
What is it? A major super PAC supporting Daniel Cameron that gets its money from the Republican Governors Association.
Impact? Very big. The Republican Governors Association contributed $12 million to Kentucky Values during the general election.This means Kentucky Values has had more than twice as much money to spend in the general election than Cameron’s campaign committee.
Limits on donations? No. A person, corporation or other group can give unlimited amounts to the Republican Governors Association which, in turn, gives to Kentucky Values.
Does it disclose its donors? Yes. Names of donors must be disclosed to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. (Again, there is a serious gap in disclosure here. Kentucky Values discloses its donor, which is the Republican Governors Association. While the donors to the Republican Governors Association prior to July 1 have been disclosed, donations since June 30 will not be posted until January.)
NOTE: The RGA is a major player in campaigns for governor across the country, raising contributions of unlimited amounts from big corporations that lobby state governments. Like the DGA, it considers Kentucky a priority year Kentucky governor campaigns, in 2019 it gave $8.5 million to a super PAC supporting the reelection of Gov. Matt Bevin.
Bluegrass Freedom Action
What is it? A super PAC supporting Daniel Cameron that gets most of its money from a “dark money” donor, The Concord Fund, a conservative group based in Washington, D.C. This super PAC was essential in keeping Cameron on the airwaves in the primary election. It actually raised and spent double the amount raised and spent by Cameron’s campaign in the primary.
Impact? Very big. It has raised about $5.5 million since it was formed in August 2022.
Limits on donations? No. People, corporations and other groups can give unlimited amounts to a super PAC.
Does it disclose the names of its donors? Yes and no. Technically, it discloses names of all donors and the amounts each gave to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. But its major donor listed is The Concord Fund, which gave $3.3 million of the $5.5 million in contributions to Bluegrass Freedom Action since it was formed. And The Concord Fund is a dark money group, meaning it does not disclose its donors. A second dark money group, American Policy Coalition, has given $530,000 to Bluegrass Freedom Action. So, the donors of about 70 percent of the money given to this big Cameron super PAC are unknown.
NOTE: The only significant amount of dark money contributed so far in the governor’s race is the money donated by The Concord Fund and the American Policy Coalition.
School Freedom Fund
What is it? A super PAC funded by Jeff Yass, the billionaire Pennsylvania options trader who has been U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s chief political benefactor for the past eight years.
Impact? Big. School Freedom Fund has spent $3 million on advertising to help Cameron
Limits on donations? No.
Does it disclose the names of its donors? Yes. Donor names are reported to the Federal Election Commission.
NOTE: School Freedom Fund is affiliated with the huge anti-tax super PAC Club for Growth, which is mostly funded by Yass and Richard Uihlein, the Illinois billionaire and mega-donor.
Protect Freedom PAC
What is it? A super-PAC affiliated with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and funded by Jeff Yass.
Impact? Big. Protect Freedom has spent $2.1 million to help elect Cameron.
Limits on donations? No. (Yass has given $18 million to Protect Freedom since 2017, most recently a $3 million donation in late June.)
Does it disclose its donors? Yes. Donor names are reported to the Federal Election Commission.
American Principles Project PAC
What is it? A super PAC that is part of a network of political committees largely funded by Republican mega-donor Richard Uihlein, a billionaire from Lake Forest, Illinois.
How big an impact? Big. Through Oct. 24 it reported spending $1.5 million to promote Cameron’s election.
Limits on donations? No. A super PAC can take donations of unlimited amounts from people or corporations.
Disclose its donors? Yes, American Principles discloses its donations and spending to the Federal Election Commission.
NOTE: FEC records show that American Principles is largely funded by a different super PAC called Restoration PAC. But Restoration PAC gets about 80 percent of its money from Uihlein. Uihlein gave $39 million to Restoration PAC since the spring of 2021.
Club for Growth Action
What is it? A major national super PAC. Although it has many donors, Uihlein has given it about one-third of its donations in recent years, and Yass has given about another third.
How big an impact? Significant because while it has reported spending only $2 million (for attack ads against Beshear), all of that spending has occurred in the last month of the fall campaign.
Limits on donations? No. A person or organization can give unlimited amounts.
Disclose its donors? Yes. Names of donors are reported to the Federal Election Commission.
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