University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
|Scott Jennings (Courier-Journal photo)|
“The system, as it has evolved since I first started in politics, now offers outside groups the opportunity to speak as much or more than candidates in some cases because of the contribution limits placed on campaigns,” Jennings elaborated in an email after speaking to the class.
“The current system almost guarantees that a significant amount of money will be spent in major elections on behalf of candidates who cannot legally control the message generated by that spending. I think democracy is more vibrant when people are free to speak in elections; I just think it's kind of silly that candidates themselves – the people brave enough to put their names on the ballot – can’t influence some of the messages that will ultimately be delivered to their benefit.”
He pointed out that this was the first campaign for a federal office in Kentucky since the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which gave corporations and unions the right to make unlimited campaign contributions.
The exact amount Jennings spent is unknown because the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is a social welfare organization, which under 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code cannot spend its money primarily on politics.
Jennings said most of the KOC’s money was spent on "issue ads," which don't call for viewers to vote one way or another and thus aren’t considered political.
As a 501(c)(4) organization, KOC does not have to reveal its donors, but Jennings said the vast majority of its money came from out of state. That was also the case with Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, which is registered under Section 527 of the tax code and does reveal its contributors.
The two biggest players for Grimes were the Senate Majority PAC, affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which spent a combined total of $7,830,234, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ compilation (at www.opensecrets.org) of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Jennings noted that out-of-state political operatives ran both committees.
Grimes benefited from $1.34 million in labor-union spending, but it was fragmented, which Jennings said is one of the problems with outside spending. "It can become extremely ineffective," he said.
Jennings said that nationally, Democrats were more successful raising super PAC money. However, Jennings successfully played the role of third major player in the Kentucky race, Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst told the journalism class this week.
Hurst said that while McConnell was focusing on defeating Tea Party-backed Matt Bevin in the Republican primary, the Grimes campaign had to deal with attacks from Jennings and his organizations, who were already pounding the idea of Grimes being President Obama’s Kentucky candidate.
Jennings was so influential in the race that the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition became the focus of an Oct. 29 report from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. It said “No other group has had a larger footprint in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.”
He added, “I strongly support the right of anyone to donate to political candidates and organizations. And I think it's a good thing when we have a free flowing marketplace of ideas.”