Politics & Government

‘Dark money’ group spending big for McConnell protégé in KY attorney general primary

Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington “dark money” group, is running ads to support Daniel Cameron over Wil Schroder in the Republican primary for Kentucky attorney general.
Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington “dark money” group, is running ads to support Daniel Cameron over Wil Schroder in the Republican primary for Kentucky attorney general.

An independent “dark money” group from Washington reports spending $350,000 to influence the May 21 Republican primary in Kentucky’s attorney general race — more money than either candidate has in his own campaign.

The Judicial Crisis Network is promoting Daniel Cameron, former legal counsel to U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in his contest against state Sen. Wil Schroder of Wilder. In their most recent finance reports, Cameron and Schroder said they had raised $286,921 and $135,311, respectively.

The nonprofit is paying for a heavy rotation of television commercials in Lexington and Louisville that tout Cameron’s past work for McConnell in helping to get conservatives confirmed to the federal bench. Cameron is “tough” and “will defend the Trump agenda,” the ads say. President Trump, who is popular in Kentucky, is featured prominently.

Apart from the commercials, Schroder said the JCN also filed requests under the Kentucky Open Records Act for police reports at the addresses of his current and previous homes around Northern Kentucky, possibly hoping to find embarrassing incidents that could be used against him.

And it paid for a “push poll” that called GOP voters in the guise of asking their opinions to tell them unflattering things about him, Schroder said, such as the fact that he once was a registered Democrat and he has accepted donations from trial attorneys.

“As far as I can determine, it’s unprecedented for an outside group to come into a Republican primary in a down-ticket race on the state ballot and try to do something like this,” Schroder said. “I think they’re desperate. I think they’re doing anything they can do in order to discredit this campaign. You have to ask yourself who’s behind this and why?”

State Sen. Wil Schroder LRC Public Information Office

Founded in 2005, the JCN raises tens of millions of dollars from undisclosed sources, spending it on public relations battles to get conservatives into judgeships and Republicans elected as states’ attorneys general. The group works closely with McConnell, whose powerful political machine is backing Cameron, his onetime aide.

Asked why it was intervening in a Republican primary, JCN executive director Gary Marx told the Herald-Leader: “The Judicial Crisis Network is supporting Daniel Cameron for attorney general because he is an outstanding, experienced attorney who is committed to the fair and impartial enforcement of the law. Mr. Cameron’s public service has been exemplary, and his record demonstrates he will fight for the people of Kentucky protecting their rights, their families and their values.”

Cameron, who is now a lawyer and lobbyist with the firm of Frost Brown Todd in Louisville, said in an interview that he’s not involved with the group’s activities. Federal election law prohibits candidates from coordinating with independent groups spending to promote their candidacy.

As a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, the JCN does not have to disclose its donors.

In its most recently available income tax return, for the year 2016, the group reported raising and spending about $26 million “to promote the vision of liberty and justice in America.” McClatchy Newspapers’ Washington bureau reported in 2017 that another secretive nonprofit, the Wellspring Committee, pumped nearly $23.5 million into the JCN in 2016.

Most of Wellspring’s funds, in turn, came from a single mysterious donor who gave the organization almost $28.5 million — nearly 90 percent of its $32.2 million in revenues.

Billionaires, foundations, and unions can donate money to nonprofit groups without disclosing their identities. Those groups can in turn influence politicians in Idaho. Here's how it work