FRANKFORT — State Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, filed Friday to run for state auditor. GOP political adviser Jesse Benton, who was touched by scandal last year, was at his side.
Their goal is to oust Democrat Adam Edelen as the state auditor. They also would not mind tarnishing him as a possible candidate for U.S. Senate next year against Republican incumbent Rand Paul.
Edelen, an outspoken critic of Paul who is frequently mentioned as a possible challenger, sharply criticized Harmon earlier this week when Harmon announced that he would use Benton.
Edelen told the Herald-Leader that Harmon's first hire being Benton "says more about his campaign than I ever could.
"Those who wish to be the taxpayer watchdog ought to have a record of ferreting out those linked to bribery rather than employing them," Edelen said.
Edelen was referring to Benton's departure last August as U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's campaign manager when Benton's name was linked to a bribery scandal in Iowa.
Benton, who ran Paul's successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010, resigned from the McConnell campaign to not be a distraction two days after former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to switch his allegiance from the presidential campaign of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to then-U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Rand Paul's father.
Benton was not named in public court documents, but Sorenson named him in an audio conversation leaked to a blog called the Iowa Republican in 2013. Benton was never charged with any wrongdoing.
Benton said Friday that Edelen's criticism this week "shows that he's afraid of Mike."
Edelen, in an email message, said his audits, including that of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, show that he's not afraid to do his job.
"Going after Richie Farmer didn't scare me, going after corrupt but popular school superintendents didn't scare me, and going up against Rand Paul's henchman certainly doesn't scare me," Edelen said.
Harmon said he has no concerns about Benton and values his fundraising and networking abilities.
Benton, who has started a communications company that has signed up Paul, said he wanted to work for Harmon because "both Sens. McConnell and Paul are supportive of building a strong bench of good candidates" for Kentucky's constitutional offices this year.
"That's what appeals to me," Benton said. He has informed Paul and McConnell that he will be working for Harmon.
Harmon, who ran for lieutenant governor with Republican Phil Moffett in 2011, has been a state representative for about 12 years. He is an agent with Nationwide Insurance.
As auditor, Harmon said he will "fight every day to make sure every single taxpayer dollar is spent ethically, wisely and transparently."
He said he has "some concerns" about how Edelen has handled the office. He emphasized that the office needs to provide more oversight of the financially strapped Kentucky Teachers Retirement System. Harmon also said he would be willing to debate any candidate.