In June 2022, Kentucky Democratic governor Andy Beshear appointed a local businessman and mayoral candidate to a state transportation board. In the months following the appointment, that businessman illegally shoveled tens of thousands of dollars in contributions toward Beshear's reelection.
More than $200,000 worth of contributions to Beshear's campaign and the state Democratic Party came from family members and employees of a small town mayor named Randall Weddle, who had those individuals use his credit card to make the contributions, according to the Kentucky Lantern. Many of those contributions came after Beshear last year appointed Weddle to the Kentucky Transportation Center Advisory Board, a state entity that provides transportation policy recommendations. Weddle's family members and associates—including the mayor's wife and children—sent Beshear and the Kentucky Democratic Party maximum donations in the months following the appointment, campaign finance disclosures show.
The contributions will likely attract scrutiny as Beshear navigates a difficult reelection bid against Republican challenger Daniel Cameron. Under Kentucky law, individuals may contribute no more than $2,000 to a primary campaign and no more than $15,000 to a political party. By having family members and associates make contributions with his credit card, Weddle massively exceeded those limits. The contributions are especially bizarre given that Weddle is a registered Republican who in 2020 and 2021 sent tens of thousands of dollars to a group supporting former president Donald Trump. Weddle was elected mayor of London, Ky., in November 2022, months after Beshear appointed him to the transportation board.
The Beshear campaign initially defended the contributions it received from Weddle's family, telling the Lantern in April that it's "no surprise that a broad, bipartisan coalition is enthusiastically supporting his bid for a second term." Yesterday, however, Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers acknowledged that Weddle's credit card was used to fund $202,000 in contributions from other people. As a result, Beshear's campaign refunded $12,000 in illegal contributions, while the Kentucky Democratic Party refunded $190,000.
Beshear's campaign, which did not return a request for comment, on Tuesday blamed its "credit card processor" for failing to notify the campaign "that a single credit card was processed multiple times, exceeding contribution limits."
"Because the credit card processor did not catch the issue, we have implemented an additional step in our compliance process," the campaign said in a statement. "We think it is important that campaigns are forthcoming when actions need to be corrected, which is why we are providing this accounting of how this matter came to our attention and the steps we took to make sure that all contributions in our possession are compliant with all campaign finance statutes."
While Beshear's campaign blamed the ordeal on a technical error, the Kentucky Republican Party quickly alleged that Weddle's contributions implicated the governor in a "pay-to-play scandal." In addition to the board appointment, Beshear in May awarded a $1.4 million grant to Weddle's city of London, money that will pay for new sidewalks. Beshear in April 2022 also headlined a ribbon cutting ceremony for a freight hauling company Weddle co-founded.
"Andy Beshear and the Democrats only returned this money after being caught in a pay-to-play scandal," Kentucky Republican Party spokesman Sean Southard said. "Wouldn't it be nice to have a governor who doesn't have to constantly play catch up with ethics and state law?"
Weddle, who did not return a request for comment, told the Lantern in April that he supported Beshear's candidacy despite being a Republican because his party will have too much power if Beshear loses.
"We need a balance of powers," Weddle said. "We'll have a superpower if Beshaer don't [sic] win."
This is not the first time Beshear has been caught up in a campaign finance scandal. In 2016, Beshear's former top deputy, Tom Longmeyer, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on federal bribery charges. While serving under Beshear's father, former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, Longmeyer steered state contracts to a public relations firm, which then paid him more than $200,000 in kickbacks.
Beshear's race against Cameron is expected to be a tight one. Both candidates are tied at 47 percent support, according to a Cygnal poll conducted in May. The pair will square off at the ballot box in November.