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Grimes Campaign Used Vehicles Owned By Family Business

(Photo via CQ Roll Call tipster)
(Photo via CQ Roll Call tipster)

A tour bus that roiled Kentucky’s Senate race in August may have been parked after suggestions of impropriety , but smaller vehicles owned by companies associated with Alison Lundergan Grimes’ father have remained on the road for campaign purposes.  

Vehicles registered to entities owned by Jerry Lundergan, the former Kentucky Democratic Party chairman, have been spotted at campaign events. The vans sport familiar Grimes logos and signage, like this Black Chevrolet Suburban spotted in a recent parade in Greensburg, Ky.  

At issue is whether the campaign is renting the vehicles. This isn’t the first time questions about the Democrat’s use of vehicles have surfaced, and state Republicans have seized on the earlier case, alleging an illegal in-kind corporate contribution.  

CQ Roll Call reviewed vehicle history documents provided by a tipster for the Suburban and a Ford Econoline van also in use by the campaign.  

The documents show the Suburban is registered to Lundy’s Catering of Lexington, one of Jerry Lundergan’s companies. CQ Roll Call asked both the Grimes campaign and Lundy’s about the vehicles and whether they were rented.  

A woman who answered the phone at Lundy’s said she would respond, but never did. The Grimes campaign did not respond to the specific inquiry about the use of the Chevrolet Suburban identified in this report.  

Photographs obtained by CQ Roll Call suggest there was an entire fleet of black SUVs sporting the Lundergan Grimes signage at the annual Fancy Farm picnic, Kentucky’s signature political event, on Aug. 2.  

Under Kentucky law, vendors offering passenger vehicles for hire or rental, known as “U-Drive-It” vehicles, are required to have specific permits. Only leasing and rental entities with U-Drive-It permit numbers may rent vehicles.

But it isn’t at all clear how much the family businesses have been compensated for the use of the vehicles. Former Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner indicated the FEC would tend to be less concerned with the state’s transportation laws than with the potential for violation of the underlying ban on corporate contributions.

Toner, a Republican appointee, said as a general matter the prohibition on in-kind corporate contributions is “the bottom line” and the Grimes campaign would need to be reimbursing at market rates for the use of vehicles owned by a caterer, even if the company providing the vehicles isn’t in the transportation business.

The issue of the Grimes campaign using passenger vehicles registered to corporate entities arose this summer when a Politico report questioned if the campaign had paid fair-market value for rental of a 45-foot-long campaign bus.

The Grimes campaign at the time said that the tour bus was rented at an appropriate rate, and issued a statement from campaign attorney Marc Elias:

The law requires that the campaign pay “the normal and usual fare or rental charge for a comparable commercial conveyance of sufficient size to accommodate all campaign travelers.” [11 C.F.R. 100.93(d).] In determining the appropriate rate, the campaign obtained quotes for the rental cost of a comparable vehicle from other providers in the Kentucky and regional market, and arrived at a reasonable reimbursement cost. We have reviewed the campaign’s methodology and agree that it complies with the applicable rules.

Rivals disputed the idea that the $150 to $175 daily rental rate, based on figures the campaign provided to Politico, was a comparable rate. A separate set of permitting questions appeared to be nearing resolution in late September, Kentucky’s cn|2 reported.

The Louisville Courier-Journal had detailed the bus permitting issues in a late August report that noted the Lundergan Group did not at that point have proper certification for operating passenger services for either tour buses or limousines.

A spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet told CQ Roll Call there are two separate steps in the process, with S.R. Holding Co., the Jerry Lundergan-owned entity identified in the report from cn|2, needing to both obtain proper credentials for operating charter buses and qualifying individual vehicles for that use.

A Federal Election Commission complaint filed by the Republican Party of Kentucky in August alleged the tour bus itself was an illegal in-kind contribution, contending a Lundergan company purchased the bus for no other purpose than use by the campaign, especially since the motor coach is wrapped in Grimes’ campaign logo and an image of the Democratic candidate’s likeness.

The Republican complaint cites a provision of campaign finance law barring providing goods and services to facilitate contributions outside of the regular line of work which states,”corporation does not facilitate the making of a contribution to a candidate or political committee if it provides goods or services in the ordinary course of its business as a commercial vendor.”

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