A special prosecutor has been named to examine possible violations of Kentucky's campaign-finance laws by Sullivan University, which urged employees at a gathering this month to defeat Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway.
Sullivan University executives asked more than 100 employees at a Louisville meeting to vote for and give campaign money to Todd P'Pool, the Republican nominee for attorney general in the Nov. 8 election. A Sullivan subsidiary, Spencerian College, is one of several for-profit colleges that Conway is investigating for possibly defrauding students or manipulating government-backed tuition assistance programs.
Kentucky Revised Statute 121.310 makes it a felony for employers to "coerce or direct any employee to vote for any political party or candidate."
Grover Potts Jr., attorney for Sullivan University, said the school did nothing illegal.
"The evidence will show that violations did not occur," Potts said. "Having a special prosecutor is more appropriate than having the attorney general involved in this, as the issues involve the attorney general's campaign for re-election."
Conway's office received a complaint earlier this month from one of the employees asked to support P'Pool. Kayla Porter said she felt so uncomfortable that she later resigned as an admissions officer for the Louisville-based Sullivan University System.
Conway recused himself from the investigation because the complaint involves his re-election campaign, spokeswoman Allison Martin said. On Friday, a committee of four employees of the attorney general's office independently chose Jim Crawford, the commonwealth's attorney in Carrollton, as a special prosecutor.
Crawford is on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.
He previously was a special prosecutor in a campaign-finance case against former Democratic Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, which ended in 2009 with Henry's guilty plea, a $500 fine and 12 months in jail, with the jail time suspended on the condition that Henry avoid further criminal problems.
David Ray, P'Pool's campaign manager, said he was unaware that a special prosecutor had been appointed, and he had no immediate comment.
Earlier this month, at a two-day seminar, Sullivan University Chancellor A.R. Sullivan and Jim Crick, the school's vice president for enrollment management, asked a room full of employees to support P'Pool.
Sullivan complained about Conway's investigation of for-profit colleges, Porter said in her complaint. Crick told the audience to give money to the P'Pool campaign, she said. Employees were told to submit checks to the Sullivan University office, where they would be bundled into a single package for the P'Pool campaign, she said.
Potts said Sullivan University does not dispute that it asked employees to support P'Pool during the seminar, but it denies that anyone was coerced. College executives simply expressed their opinions about which candidate would be best for the school's future, Potts said.
Sullivan University has campuses in Louisville, Lexington and Fort Knox. It also owns Spencerian College, which has campuses in Louisville and Lexington. Conway's office subpoenaed documents from Spencerian College in December as part of its investigation.