FreedomWorks under fire for 'Retire Mitch' signs in Kentucky

A group supporting Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) primary challenger is facing backlash from Kentuckians for blanketing parts of the state in anti-McConnell signage.

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FreedomWorks, which has endorsed businessman Matt Bevin in the primary race, has been asked by local government officials in Louisville to take down what one official says are “hundreds” of “Retire Mitch” signs posted all over Jefferson County.

But a FreedomWorks representative said the group has no plans to take down the signs there or anywhere else in the state, 10,000 of which have already been distributed to local activists across Kentucky.

Louisville Metro Government Code Enforcement Officer Chris Monahan said he called Jeff Scully, the group’s outreach manager, to let him know the signs violate local ordinances.

Scully said he did receive a call “about 10 or 12 signs,” and the group sent an intern to remove them. But Monahan said there were “hundreds” across the county, and he hadn’t noticed that any were gone.

According to Monahan, political groups are only allowed to post such signs two weeks prior to Election Day and must remove them within two weeks following. The fine for such a violation is $100 per sign.

Louisville regulations on signage declare that signs are also in violation of local codes if they’re erected without prior approval from the local government.

Monahan said he had received calls from the Louisville Police Department, as well as city council aides and local residents, complaining about the signs “polluting” the county’s roadways. “We oppose just driving down the road and placing dozens of signs along state driveways that aren’t permissible right of ways for these signs,” he said. “They pollute our neighborhoods and our county.” 

Monahan said that, while it’s not unusual for local businesses and politicians to post signs, they’ll typically take them down when alerted by the government that they’re in violation of code.

But Russ Walker, national political director for FreedomWorks for America, said his group has no intention of removing the signs.

“That’s absurd,” Walker told The Hill of the local regulations. “People should have the right to put signs up in support or opposition to candidates when they feel inclined.”

Walker decried the local signage codes as a “mechanism of the political establishment” to oppose the grassroots.

“I love it how cities pass code to squelch peoples’ free speech,” he said.

Monahan expressly said, however, “we don’t want to step on freedom of speech,” but the signs might have to ultimately be removed.

Walker said the group hadn’t directed its activists on where to post the signs, and the fact that they’re everywhere is evidence of the grassroots support Bevin is drawing in Kentucky, in contrast with McConnell campaign staff.

“We actually have thousands of people who are engaged, and typically, the McConnell campaign has to go out and buy this kind of support,” he said.

But the signage might run counter to FreedomWorks’, and Bevin’s, stated values of fiscal conservatism. While typically local residents posting signs in violation of code would either clean them up or pay a fine to make up for the costs of cleanup, Monahan said he and other state officials would likely end up picking them up if they don’t hear back from FreedomWorks.

“How many dollars in taxpayer money and public works staffers is going to be spent cleaning this up?” he wondered.