Politics & Government

Spending by outside groups in Chandler-Barr race tops $1 million

Andy Barr, left, and Ben Chandler
Andy Barr, left, and Ben Chandler

FRANKFORT — Out-of-state interest groups have spent more than $1 million on television advertising in Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District race, including a new ad that says Republican Andy Barr has a "criminal record."

The majority of spending by outside groups has come from the National Republican Congressional Committee, but new ads by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler's campaign have created a stir this week.

"Andy Barr doesn't like to talk about it, but when he applied for a state job, Barr got caught lying about his criminal record, covering up his criminal past," the DCCC ad claims.

The ad did not elaborate on Barr's "criminal past," but it included a reference to an April 11, 2010, story in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The newspaper reported then that Barr, as a 19-year-old college student in Key West, Fla., in 1993, was charged by police with possession of a fake Mississippi driver's license. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to provide eight hours of community service, according to court records.

In 1999, Lexington police charged Barr, then 26, with public drinking in front of Wildcat Drive-In Liquor on North Broadway, according to court records. The charge was dismissed four months later.

When Barr applied for state government jobs in the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, he checked "No" on the sections asking if he had "ever been convicted of violating any law" other than "minor traffic violations."

Barr said two years ago he believed his Florida arrest was "minor" and did not merit disclosure.

On Tuesday, the Lexington lawyer said it's inaccurate to call his guilty plea a conviction.

"When I was a 19-year-old college student, I received a ticket in Florida for using a fake ID, which was a mistake I made as a teenager," he said. "I paid a fine and did community service, and my understanding of that was that it was dismissed and not adjudicated. My understanding is that does not constitute a conviction."

The Chandler campaign's latest ad claims that "Andy Barr got caught lying twice. Failing to disclose an arrest and guilty plea."

While showing a picture of Barr with Fletcher, the ad goes on: "Then his office was searched by police as part of a corruption scandal."

During the Fletcher administration, Barr was general counsel for a state agency called Local Initiatives for a New Kentucky, or LINK, which was a focus of an attorney general's investigation into hiring practices by Fletcher's administration.

However, Barr was never charged in the investigation or accused of wrongdoing.

LINK played a key role in satisfying local Republican leaders who wanted state merit jobs for family and friends, according to records released in the investigation. LINK'S director was indicted, but the indictment later was dismissed.

Chandler said Tuesday that Barr undoubtedly has a criminal record.

"It was a charge he pleaded guilty to and had to have probation. He also didn't come clean and disclose it on state forms," Chandler said. "This is also an ethical issue, and it says something about a person who won't disclose."

Barr said the ads by Chandler and the DCCC are "why American people are so disillusioned with politics. People are sick and tired of personal attacks. It was a minor mistake I made when I was a teenager."

So far, Chandler and Barr have spent a combined $1.3 million on television advertising, split almost equally between the two candidates. Neither campaign has bought ads beyond Oct. 15.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has been on the air in Lexington since Sept. 21, has already bought or booked $616,982 of air time through Nov. 6, according to a review of the public ad file at WKYT-TV.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has bought or booked $265,012 of air time in the contest. The DCCC's advertising buy runs from Oct. 2-29.

The DCCC's entry in the race this month indicates it is tightening, says Roll Call, an online newspaper that covers Congress. Chandler, a four-term Kentucky lawmaker, beat Barr by only 648 votes in 2010's election.

The large amount of money being spent by outside groups, Barr said, "underscores the competitiveness of this race and its importance in context to the national presidential election."

Chandler said the NRCC's spending is "an attempt to buy the election, just like we are seeing all across the country.

"It's unfortunate. It's a shame. That's why we need campaign finance reform."

Other outside groups buying TV ads in Lexington include: Center for Individual Freedom, $69,085; Patriot Majority USA, $45,315; and Center Forward, $82,490.

The Center for Individual Freedom's ads have benefited Barr, while Center Forward and Patriot Majority USA have aired ads benefiting Chandler.