McConnell Challenger Denounces 'Excessive Money in Politics' Days After Soliciting Super PAC Donations

McGrath campaign faces ethics complaint for endorsement of super PAC

Amy McGrath / Getty Images
January 16, 2020

Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath's Senate campaign solicited super PAC donations just days before McGrath denounced "excessive money in politics" at a campaign event.

McGrath, who is running to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, told attendees at a Bowling Green, Ky., campaign event on Monday that the elimination of big money in politics is "really important to me personally," adding that such donations threaten the future of the United States.

"Dark money and the rapid growth of the excessive money in politics is going to absolutely crush our country," McGrath said at the Monday event. "I'm telling you we're not going to be able to solve any of our problems … unless we can get the money in politics under control."

McGrath's campaign has benefited from the support of two super PACs, Fire Mitch Save America and the Ditch Mitch Fund. Those groups can raise and spend unlimited funds and were endorsed by McGrath's campaign manager just days before the Democrat condemned the role of money in politics.

"I think the signal is for people who are interested in contributing beyond the legal limits, they should have confidence to contribute to the super PAC," campaign manager Mark Nickolas told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Jan. 7. "We've got to fight fire with fire.… We're not going to run this race with one arm tied behind our back."

The McGrath campaign did not respond to request for comment.

Nickolas doubled down in a comment to Politico, saying, "We very strongly encourage donors to give to [Fire Mitch Save America]."

After the campaign's call for lucrative political donations, McGrath condemned dark money at Monday's campaign event, suggesting it could be coming from Russian president Vladimir Putin.

"Right now with dark money we have no idea where this money's coming from," she said. "We have no idea how much, it's unlimited, and the money could be coming from another country, it could be coming from, I don't know, you name it, Vladimir."

While the super PACs supporting McGrath are required to disclose donors, they can also accept unlimited contributions from dark money groups that are not required to disclose donors. The campaign's public request for donations to Fire Mitch Save America have already sparked an ethics complaint alleging that McGrath's staff violated campaign finance laws.

State GOP chairman Mac Brown accused the McGrath campaign of violating the Federal Election Campaign Act by "soliciting funds that are not subject to its limitations, prohibitions, and reporting requirements."

"As it flagrantly runs afoul of federal campaign finance regulations, it is clear that Amy McGrath's 2020 campaign for Senate has become everything her failed 2018 campaign for Congress worried about," Brown said in a statement. "Amy McGrath For Senate's decision to stoop to the solicitation of illegal 'soft money' contributions for a super PAC is a telling indicator of its inability to lock up the Democrat party's nomination. No amount of hypocrisy-soaked cash from liberal elites on the coasts, however, can conceal or compensate for a disastrous campaign that has been plagued by a series of embarrassing gaffes."

The GOP's claim has merit, according to one ethics expert. Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust executive director Kendra Arnold said that federal law bars candidates from directing donations to super PACs.

"Federal law only allows candidates to solicit contributions within amount and source limitations, and specifically prohibits candidates from encouraging people to donate funds above the legal contribution limit to super PACs. It appears the McGrath campaign violated this rule," Arnold said. "The actions of McGrath and her campaign committee should be investigated thoroughly in order to uphold the integrity of campaign contribution limits and contribution source prohibitions."

Republicans are not the only critics of McGrath's approach to fundraising. Progressive primary opponent Mike Broihier, whose campaign declined an interview request from the Washington Free Beacon, attacked McGrath for her use of big money.

"Doubling or tripling the amount of money raised by a candidate that has failed to gain traction in the commonwealth will do nothing to enthuse the people who matter — the voters of Kentucky," Broihier told the Louisville Courier Journal.