Sunday, October 12, 2003

Dems rail against Murgatroyd campaign

Pat Crowley

Remember what Kenton County Republicans said last year when Democrats filed a campaign fund-raising complaint against the re-election campaign of Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd?

Let me refresh your memory.

The complaint was nothing more than "slinging mud," "dirty politics" and "another example of Democrats manufacturing issues," said Kenton County GOP Chairman Greg Shumate, a key member of Murgatroyd's successful reelection campaign.

Democrats were "making a mountain out of a molehill," said the campaign's treasurer, Lawson Walker.

And even before their own fund-raising was called into question, Republicans were accusing Democrat Patrick Hughes of trying to "buy the election," according to Shumate.

Somebody get those boys a towel so they can wipe all that egg off their faces.

Looks like, at least according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, the Democrats have been vindicated. The Murgatroyd campaign deserved scrutiny last year, because election laws were being broken.

Late last week, the registry, which oversees campaign finance laws in Kentucky, slapped Murgatroyd's campaign with $1,300 in penalties for filing incomplete campaign returns and for taking contributions over the legal limit of $1,000 per individual.

But worse than that, the Republicans are now being subjected to some wicked "I told you so" from the Dems.

"These were illegal contributions," said Covington Democrat Joe Meyer, a former state Senator and adviser to Hughes who filed the complaint last year. "It was actually the Murgatroyd campaign doing the manufacturing here, manufacturing a cover-up of illegal activities and manufacturing false finance reports.

"The only thing dirty in the campaign was Murgatroyd's fund-raising tactics," Meyer said.

To no one's amazement, Republicans are downplaying the ruling and continuing to say the complaint was politically motivated.

Of course politics was involved. Who else is going to point out problems in a GOP campaign? A Republican?

But even though a Democrat filed the complaint, a bipartisan commission handed down the ruling. Furthermore, Murgatroyd himself admitted to the violations in an agreement he signed with the state.

There was also more to the problems inside the campaign than simple bookkeeping and reporting errors.

The Murgatroyd campaign was seriously sloppy and even derelict in filling out campaign finance reports, conveniently leaving out the employer and occupations of many contributors.

Big deal, you might say. But remember, during last year's campaign, Murgatroyd was under serious political pressure over contributions to his campaign.

Out-of-town engineers and others who showed up on Murgatroyd's campaign finance reports were getting lots of work from the Sanitation District No. 1 of Northern Kentucky. Murgatroyd and the region's other judge-executives oversee and appoint the district's board.

Murgatroyd, his campaign and the sewer district denied any link between the contributions and the work. But it was some of those same engineers landing the work whose professions and employers were not listed on the campaign finance reports.

A mistake? Or an attempt to mask that was giving money to the campaign?

Walker said nothing so nefarious was taking place, that all problems were corrected, all fines repaid, all contributions that went over the limit returned and all reports reconciled.

Democrats disagree.

"What really happened is that Dick Murgatroyd bought the election, and he did it with illegal contributions," Meyer said.

That's a stretch, but there were problems in the Murgatroyd campaign that should have been addressed before it went all the way to the registry.

E-mail Patrick Crowley interviews Kentucky Secretary of State candidate Trey Grayson this week on ICN6's "On the Record," which is broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.

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