U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Lexington collected $42,808 in campaign donations from the banking industry last year through a short-lived fundraising committee that he helped run with U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm of New York, who was charged Monday with 20 counts of business and tax fraud.
Barr, Grimm and four of their Republican House colleagues — all members of the House Committee on Financial Services, which oversees banking — took donations through their Committee to Protect Prosperity and Free Enterprise from July 1, 2013, until it was terminated on Jan. 30. Most of the committee's $292,207 came from bankers, payday lenders and other financial executives in Texas, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
With Grimm facing up to 20 years in prison for allegedly concealing more than $1 million in business income — charges that Grimm denies and calls "a groundless witch hunt" — Democrats on Wednesday called on Barr to denounce the indicted lawmaker and return the $42,808.
In a prepared statement, Barr campaign spokesman Blake Brickman said Wednesday that Grimm is "a passing acquaintance" of Barr's.
"This is a desperate attempt by President Obama's Washington allies who hope to distract hard-working Kentuckians from the issues they care about, like increasing jobs and better access to quality health care," Brickman said. "These baseless, negative attacks are part of the reason that Kentuckians are tired of politics as usual."
Grimm has been under U.S. Department of Justice scrutiny for months for alleged campaign-finance violations. That led to a much-publicized scene in January at the Capitol in which Grimm threatened to toss a television reporter "off this f---ing balcony" after the reporter asked him about the status of the federal investigation.
Barr should have higher standards for the people who surround him, said Carol Andrews, campaign consultant for Democrat Elizabeth Jensen, who hopes to challenge Barr in the Nov. 4 election to represent Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.
"For Andy Barr to align himself with a corrupt politician he knew was under federal scrutiny shows a serious lack of judgment that has carried over from his days with (the Gov. Ernie) Fletcher administration, when he defended corrupt practices," Andrews said.
"Moreover, Andy Barr's allegiance to the likes of Grimm shows where his interests lie — with corrupt Washington politicians and their ability to help him raise tainted campaign cash, not with the people of Central Kentucky," she said.
In a statement, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Barr "is sending an ugly message to the voters: that his allegiance is with indicted Congressman Michael Grimm and not the people of Kentucky."
The committee called on Barr to immediately return the $42,808 "and call on his Republican colleagues and leaders to live up to their promise of 'zero tolerance' for unethical behavior."
Barr, 40, is finishing his first term in the House. He was sitting on $1.1 million in campaign donations as of March 31, with $336,600 — the largest portion — coming from the financial services sector, including banks, insurance companies and real estate firms. At hearings of the House Committee on Financial Services, Barr has protested financial regulations that he says are too burdensome, complex and counterproductive.
On Tuesday, with strong support from the banking industry, Barr won a voice vote in the House for passage of his Restoring Proven Financing for American Employers Act. It would exempt existing collateralized loan obligations from the so-called "Volcker Rule," which bars banks from making risky trades with their own money and limits their investments in certain funds. Collateralized loan obligations are complex securities that bundle together corporate debt.
"I am glad that the House has come together to advance this common-sense solution that would ensure American employers are able to obtain affordable financing to expand their businesses and create much-needed jobs for Kentuckians," Barr said after the House vote.