An anti-tax group that helped fuel Republican Rand Paul's political career had 1,000 dues-paying members, Paul reportedly told a news service in 2000.
But this week, after the status of Kentucky Taxpayers United became an issue in the U.S. Senate race, Paul's campaign manager said the group was an all-volunteer effort.
"There were no dues-paying members," Jesse Benton, Paul's campaign manager, told the Herald-Leader in an e-mail Friday.
Paul's campaign Web site still touts his work as head of the group, even though it has not existed as a legal corporation for a decade. As recently as last Monday night, Paul was introduced as chairman and founder of the group before a televised debate in Northern Kentucky.
The organization was dissolved in November 2000 by then-Secretary of State John Y. Brown III because Paul had not filed the required annual report, according to state records. It is listed as being in bad standing.
Paul has cited his role with the group, which backed candidates opposed to higher taxes, in speeches and television appearances many times since then, helping bolster his credentials as an advocate of lower taxes before, and during, his run for the Senate.
The campaign of his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway, posted a video on the Internet this week questioning Paul's truthfulness.
"Either he made up a political organization to pad his résumé for the past 10 years, or he accepted contributions to a made-up organization and has to explain where that money is," a spokesman for Conway, John Collins, said Friday.
If the organization had taken in a certain level of money, it would have been required to file reports with the Internal Revenue Service. A search of the IRS Web site showed no listings for Kentucky Taxpayers United.
The group never had any significant fund-raising, Benton said.
Paul formed KTU in the early 1990s, but he did not incorporate it until September 1999. Paul, his wife Kelley Paul, and her father, Hilton Ashby of Russellville, were the directors of the group, according to state records.
The organization was incorporated as a non-profit under state and federal provisions. The goal was to educate the public about the voting records and policy positions of the state legislature, according to its incorporation documents.
In an April 2000 story about KTU honoring legislators for opposing taxes, The Associated Press reported that Paul said the group sent its ratings to about 1,000 dues-paying members.
Paul began working through KTU even before incorporating the group.
In 1994, for instance, the group was cited in an advertisement in the Bowling Green newspaper that highlighted the anti-tax stance of Marshall Hughes, a Republican running against Nick Kafoglis, a Democrat seeking re-election to the state Senate.
A disclaimer said Paul, treasurer of Kentucky Taxpayers United, paid for the ad.
Paul has said KTU also bought ads to help Republican U.S. Rep Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green win a state Senate race in the late 1990s.
Benton said in a statement that KTU issued ratings of state legislative candidates in five election cycles between 1994 and 2002.
Afterward it continued efforts to get candidates to pledge opposition to higher taxes, "as well as to provide a platform for Dr. Paul and others to speak about the issues of taxpayers rights," Benton said.
"KTU is a testament to the power of grass-roots citizens overcoming big money and special interests, something Rand has continued in his campaign for Senate," Benton said.
Brett Gaspard, who identified himself on a campaign Web site as an "auxiliary spokesperson" for Kentucky Taxpayers United since 1999, told the Wall Street Journal that after 2002, the group's only significant activity was public appearances by Paul or him.
"You kind of give yourself a group. You can't just say, 'I'm Brett Gaspard,'" the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Before a speech by Paul in Lexington on Friday, a campaign aide said Paul would not take questions from a Herald-Leader reporter.
Paul let the incorporation of KTU lapse in 2000, but it's clear he is familiar with the incorporation process.
He has filed necessary paperwork each year to keep his medical practice in good corporate standing, as well as the incorporation of the National Board of Ophthalmology. That is an organization Paul set up to certify ophthalmologists apart from a much larger national certification group, the American Board of Ophthalmology.
Paul has said he helped form the rival group because he did not agree with the American Board of Ophthalmology's practice of exempting older doctors from recertification. As with the anti-tax group, Paul, his wife and father-in-law are listed in state documents as officers of the ophthalmology group.