Politics & Government

Feds can argue father of Grimes broke campaign laws in her state races, judge says

Prosecutors can present evidence that former state Democratic Party chief Jerry Lundergan made alleged illegal contributions to the campaigns of his daughter, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, in 2011 and 2015 as they try to prove he broke federal law in her 2014 U.S. Senate campaign, a federal judge has ruled.

Lundergan has not been charged in connection with Grimes’s successful state races.

However, he is scheduled to go on trial this week for allegedly making illegal contributions through his companies to Grimes in her unsuccessful 2014 bid to unseat Kentucky’s senior Republican U.S. senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Prosecutors argued that evidence Lundergan made illegal contributions to Grimes in the two state races is relevant to “establish that he knew and intended to use these same methods to contribute corporate money” to Grimes in 2014.

Lundergan is charged with Dale Emmons, a prominent Kentucky political consultant, with conspiring to make illegal contributions to Grimes in her 2014 race.

Lundergan is charged with directing campaign consultants and vendors to send bills to one of his companies for work they did on Grimes’ federal campaign.

Emmons is charged with consulting for the campaign but billing one of Lundergan’s companies for the work.

The two also allegedly caused Grimes’ campaign to file false reports. They have denied the charges.

Jerry Lundergan showed some fatherly pride after Alison Lundergan Grimes won the Democratic primary in her first race for secretary of state in 2011. Mark Cornelison Staff File Photo

The indictment said Grimes did not know of the alleged illegal contributions from her father in the 2014 race.

Prosecutors alleged in a motion that Lundergan illegally spent more than $325,000 through companies he owns — which include catering services — to help his daughter in 2011 and 2015, paying for services such as campaign mailers.

Emmons received more than $70,000 of that total during periods when he was providing services to Grimes’ campaigns, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys urged U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove to bar prosecutors from presenting evidence about alleged illegal contributions in Grimes’ 2011 and 2015 races.

The defense attorneys argued that letting in such evidence would create a risk jurors would return a guilty verdict on the “impermissible theory that if Lundergan violated campaign finance laws in the past, he probably did so” in 2014 as well.

In a ruling last week, however, Van Tatenhove said prosecutors can present evidence of alleged wrongdoing by Lundergan in the state races.

Evidence of other contributions benefiting Grimes by companies owned by Lundergan and Emmons will help “complete the story” of the alleged 2014 conspiracy for jurors, the judge said.

“These are the same actors involved in the indicted charges, engaging in the same conduct as alleged in the indictment,” Van Tatenhove said in the decision.

The potential that evidence about 2011 and 2015 will create unfair prejudice against Lundergan and Emmons does not outweigh the value of that evidence in trying to prove the charges against them, Van Tatenhove said.

Jury selection in the trial against the two is scheduled to begin Thursday, with opening arguments set for Aug. 13. The trial is expected to last four weeks.

Dale Emmons, left, with attorney Brandon Marshall, right, walked Wednesday morning to the federal courthouse on Barr Street in Lexington for his first appearance on campaign finance charges. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com