Farmer questions contribution to Comer in ag commissioner race

jbrammer@herald-leader.comOctober 27, 2011 

FRANKFORT — The Democratic campaign of Bob Farmer for state commissioner of agriculture claimed Wednesday that his Republican opponent, state Rep. James Comer, violated an ethics law by accepting a campaign contribution from a lobbyist.

About an hour after the Farmer campaign made the claim, Comer's campaign amended its campaign finance report to reflect that no lobbyist had contributed to it.

The Farmer campaign said in a news release at 9:22 a.m. that Comer received a contribution from Robert Heleringer, a Louisville attorney and lobbyist, on Sept. 30.

State campaign finance records show that Heleringer gave $250 to the Comer campaign on that date. Heleringer is listed with the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission as a lobbyist with Kentucky WILG and Injured Workers Pharmacy.

Records show the Comer campaign amended its finance report at 10:44 a.m. Wednesday to reflect that the $250 contribution came from Cindy Heleringer, Robert Heleringer's wife.

Robert Heleringer is a former state representative and a former GOP candidate for lieutenant governor. He said Wednesday afternoon that his wife was the one who contributed to the Comer campaign.

"It was a bookkeeping mistake on the part of the Comer campaign," he said.

State law prohibits lawmakers from accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists. Elected officials in the state's executive branch are governed by a different ethics law, which does not prohibit campaign contributions by lobbyists.

"Representative Comer can't slip away this time. The evidence is there, and he knew he was violating the law by accepting money from a well-known lobbyist and former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor," Farmer campaign spokesman Brian Wright said.

Asked about Comer's amended report, Wright said, "We would like to see the check for the contribution and exactly who wrote it."

Comer said his campaign had a copy of the check that Cindy Heleringer wrote on Sept. 30. He said she also gave to his campaign during last spring's primary election.

"This was just a simple mistake, and my opponent is trying to make something out of it," Comer said.

Earlier this month, the Legislative Ethics Commission voted unanimously to dismiss a complaint by the Farmer campaign that alleged Comer improperly used a state employee in his campaign.

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