The Kentucky Republican Party filed complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission Friday against Democratic state Senate candidates Steve Newberry and Kathy Groob for accepting $250 each from a donor who is now a registered lobbyist.
Newberry, who is running for the open 9th District seat, and Groob, who is challenging GOP Sen. Jack Westwood in Northern Kentucky's 23rd District, listed on their most recent campaign finance reports $250 contributions from Ron Geoghegan, who is a registered lobbyist with the firm of McCarthy Speaks Strategic Solutions in Frankfort.
Kentucky law forbids legislators or legislative candidates from accepting campaign donations from lobbyists.
Both Newberry and Groob said Friday they didn't know Geoghegan was a lobbyist until they received a phone call from Geoghegan Thursday night during which he told both of them that he mistakenly gave them money. The candidates said they returned Geoghegan's checks Friday morning.
Under Kentucky law, both the lobbyist that gives a contribution to a legislative candidate and the candidate who receives it can be liable.
The GOP's complaint, which Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson filed with the ethics commission Friday afternoon, alleges that Groob and Newberry "attempted to conceal" Geoghegan's violation by listing his occupation as an executive or manager at BellSouth.
Geoghegan is a former public affairs executive with BellSouth and has given to candidates using that title as recently as during last fall's governor's race, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Newberry said he remembered Geoghegan worked for BellSouth and referred to the registry's online database to check Geoghegan's title while filling out his finance report.
"We've had hundreds of contributions, and there was an error made by the contributor, and we used a database that did not have the updated information," Newberry said.
In a statement to the Herald-Leader, Geoghegan said he mistakenly thought the law prohibited donations to sitting legislators, not candidates.
"I regret this ever happening. I should have known better," his statement said. "I spoke with the Legislative Ethics Commission this morning, and we are taking the appropriate steps."
Newberry said he plans to immediately respond to the GOP's complaint.
"We've returned the check. ... It was an honest mistake," he said. "I respect the Legislative Ethics Commission and would be most happy to explain to them how it occurred."
Groob said Geoghegan made the donation to her campaign at a September fund-raiser at the home of former Democratic Gov. Brereton Jones.
"I didn't even know who he was," Groob said of Geoghegan. "We would absolutely never take money from a lobbyist. He attended a fund-raiser. We did not have him on an invitation list. And Brereton Jones did not know him or invite him."
Groob's campaign against Westwood and Newberry's race that pits him against Republican David Givens, a Green County businessman, are this year's most expensive state legislative races.