FRANKFORT — The father-in-law of Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams acknowledged Wednesday that he is the sole donor to Restoring America, a political group that has been ordered to take its ads off the air by a judge.
Terry Stephens, a Russell County businessman and owner of Stephens Pipe and Steel, said in an email that he was the sole donor to the group, which has spent more than $1.3 million on television ads criticizing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and complimenting Williams.
Stephens said he supported Restoring America because of its conservative values. Stephens said he did not direct the group to support a particular candidate or campaign.
Restoring America updated its 32-day pre-election campaign finance report on Wednesday in an effort to get its ads back on the air, but the update did not include any donor names.
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Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate issued a restraining order against the independent group on Monday, saying that it had violated the state's campaign finance laws by not disclosing the names of its donors to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Wingate issued the order at the request of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
The state Court of Appeals on Wednesday denied Restoring America's appeal of the lower court's order, saying the restraining order could not be appealed. The court did not rule on the merits of Restoring America's arguments.
The two sides are expected to be back in Franklin Circuit Court on Thursday. The Kentucky Democratic Party is asking for an injunction against the group and wants Wingate to order the group to turn over its donor list.
Stephens acknowledged his donation to Restoring America minutes after a lawyer for the group released to the media a letter that was sent to Kentucky television station managers on Wednesday. The letter, written by Dale Bring of Columbus, Ohio, said Restoring America was updating its campaign finance report and expected the restraining order to be "lifted immediately."
However, the group's update only provided more details about how it has spent its money.
Those expenditures included $540,000 on advertising to support the Williams' campaign, $15,000 to support Republican James Comer, who is running for commissioner of agriculture, and $864,600 for ads opposing Beshear.
Restoring America previously listed Restoring America Inc., a so-called 527 political organization that must eventually disclose its donors to the IRS, as its only donor on a report filed with the state earlier this month. The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance in an April opinion said that independent groups could not use a "pass through" entity to shield the name of donors if that organization's sole purpose was to raise money for a specific campaign.
Stephens said he and Restoring America have not coordinated their efforts with any candidate's campaign, which would violate Kentucky campaign finance laws.
"Restoring American Inc. did not direct any contributions to particular elections and neither it nor I coordinated my free speech with any candidate or campaign and I will continue my support of Restoring America or any other organization that helps loosen the grip of moral decay on our state and our nation," Stephens said.
The Kentucky Democratic Party, in court documents, has argued that if Stephens is Restoring America's sole donor, there could be illegal coordination between Restoring America and the Williams' campaign.
Donald Storm, chairman of the Williams campaign, dismissed the Democratic Party's concerns.
"This outrageous allegation is 100 percent false, like most things you hear coming from Gov. Beshear's campaign," Storm said. "Senator Williams does not take lightly these reckless, defamatory comments and believes that those making them should be held to personal account."
Earlier this year, Stephens gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which used an affiliated group to run TV ads supporting Williams. He also has given to Williams' campaign.
Having similar donors does not prove that there is coordination between an independent organization and a campaign, the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance found in 2008. In order to prove coordination, there must be evidence of an effort to coordinate communications between the two groups, the registry has said.