Federal campaign finance charges against well-known Kentucky Democrats Jerry Lundergan and Dale Emmons violate constitutional protections and should be dismissed, defense attorneys have argued.
Lundergan’s attorney, J. Guthrie True, recently filed six separate challenges to the indictment on free-speech and other grounds. Several motions seek to have all the charges dismissed, while others target only some of the charges.
The indictment charges that Lundergan and Emmons took part in a scheme to make illegal contributions through Lundergan’s company to the 2014 U.S. Senate campaign of his daughter, Alison Lundergan Grimes.
One of Emmons’ attorneys, Brandon W. Marshall, filed a request to join Lundergan’s motions.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
The motions argued the U.S. Supreme Court has said the only justification for limiting campaign contributions is to guard against the risk of donors corrupting candidates.
That is called a “quid pro quo” arrangement — giving something to get something.
That didn’t come into play in Lundergan’s case because his support for his daughter didn’t buy him any additional influence, according to his defense.
“Whatever merit the laws that the government alleges were violated may have in other situations, their application here cannot meet constitutional muster,” True wrote. “There is no real or perceived risk that a parent’s contributions to a child’s campaign raise the specter of quid pro quo corruption — specifically, the danger that the contribution will result in the child using their political office, once obtained, to benefit the parent — independent of the familial relationship.”
Federal prosecutors have until Jan. 31 to respond to the requests to dismiss the charges.
A federal grand jury indicted Lundergan and Emmons in August. Lundergan faces 10 charges and Emmons six.
Lundergan is charged with having consultants and vendors on Grimes’ campaign send bills to one of his companies, S.R. Holding, for their work instead of billing the campaign — an alleged improper “in-kind” contribution.
Emmons is charged with doing consulting work for the campaign but billing Lundergan’s company, receiving payment from the company rather than the campaign.
The indictment said Grimes’ campaign didn’t know about the payments. Lundergan and Emmons caused the campaign to file false reports with the Federal Election Commission, covering up the alleged improper spending, the indictment charged.
Some of the charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Lundergan and Emmons have pleaded not guilty.
The charges were an arrow to the state’s Democratic establishment. Lundergan, of Lexington, is a former state representative and Kentucky Democratic Party chairman, while Emmons has been a consultant on hundreds of campaigns.
Grimes lost that 2014 race to incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell by a wide margin, but had been mentioned as a potential candidate for governor or attorney general in 2019.
That was before the indictment and before allegations she had abused her authority as the state’s chief election officer.
Grimes has denied misusing her office, and the indictment against her father does not say she knew of any alleged wrongdoing, but the indictment and controversy have created political headwinds for her.
The indictment alleges a total of to $206,673 in improper in-kind services to Grimes’ 2014 campaign.
Federal court decisions have evolved on the issue of campaign contributions, according to one defense motion that cited a decision known as Citizens United, which ended the ban on political spending by corporations and unions independent of campaigns.
In that environment of strong protection for free-speech rights in elections, “there is no longer a constitutional basis for limiting contributions to candidates by close family members,” one of Lundergan’s motions argued.
“As a result, pursuing criminal prosecution against Lundergan for allegedly violating contribution bans in supporting his daughter’s political campaign would violate the First Amendment,” the motion said.
Another motion argued that there was no allegation of coordination between Grimes’ campaign and Lundergan on the alleged illegal spending.
If the campaign did not coordinate the payments, they did not count as contributions to the campaign but rather were the type of independent spending that is not subject to limits on the source or amount, the motion said.
The defense said Lundergan could have given Grimes cash and she could have spent it on the same services cited in the indictment. Lundergan has often given his daughters money, the motion said.
It is improper to treat a candidate’s use of personal money on a campaign differently than spending by a family member when the source of the money was the same, the defense motion argued.
Another Lundergan motion said federal law bars contributions by solely-owned corporations like his but allows contributions by other corporate structures, arguing that the double standard is wrong.
The trial in the case is scheduled for August in Frankfort.