Kentucky GOP files complaint against potential McConnell challenger

The Kentucky Republican Party filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) Wednesday accusing Democrat Matt Jones of “serious violations” of campaign regulations.

The state GOP said Jones, a liberal radio host who is considering challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings MORE (R) and running against Amy McGrath in the Democratic Senate primary, of violating FEC regulations barring campaigns from accepting corporate donations.

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“Matt Jones must be held accountable immediately for misusing multiple platforms paid for by his corporate sponsors to unlawfully promote his U.S. Senate candidacy,” Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) Chairman J. McCauley Brown said in a statement.

“In stark contrast to Jones’ candor about Amy McGrath’s authenticity problems, his attempts to conceal these violations from both the FEC and the public only heighten their severity. RPK’s complaint is an important first step in stopping Jones’ flagrant failure to comply with federal regulations and we urge the FEC to deliver a swift and strong penalty.” 

Jones, who formed an exploratory committee for a Senate run in August, hosts a radio show through iHeartMedia’s syndication called “Kentucky Sports Radio” (KSR) and is planning a tour for an upcoming book to be published by Simon & Schuster bashing McConnell. 

The complaint alleges that Jones, in discussing his Senate campaign on his radio show and on the book tour, is accepting what amounts to corporate contributions for “campaign promotions” from iHeartMedia and Simon & Schuster.

“iHeartMedia continues to syndicate KSR and subsidize Mr. Jones’ promotion of his candidacy and statewide campaign tour across Kentucky,” the Kentucky GOP said in the complaint. “By paying for Mr. Jones’ platform to advance his political campaign, iHeartMedia is providing a prohibited corporate contribution to Mr. Jones’ campaign.” 

“Moreover, Mr. Jones’ ‘book tour’ and promotion of his forthcoming work is targeted directly at the relevant electorate, Kentucky voters,” it added. “Accordingly, there can be no commercial purpose for Simon & Schuster financing such a tour; the only conceivable purpose such activity can have is to influence the outcome of an election. ... The expenses paid for by Simon & Schuster, with no cost to Mr. Jones’ campaign, can be described as nothing other than in-kind contributions.” 

The complaint accuses Jones of failing to report the “contributions and expenditures” to the FEC, saying it amounts to a “willful violation” of its reporting requirements.

The Kentucky GOP is asking the FEC to investigate its allegations and “impose sanctions” appropriate to the “violations,” including taking Jones and his campaign to federal court.

Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

The Kentucky Senate race, while not one of the most competitive contests of the 2020 cycle, is one of the most prominent. Several Democratic presidential contenders have touted the need to unseat McConnell, saying he has impeded Democrats’ legislative priorities that have passed the House. 

McGrath, a Marine veteran who narrowly lost a House race in the Bluegrass State last year, announced in July she would run to challenge McConnell, saying he “was elected a lifetime ago" and has “bit by bit, year by year — turned Washington into something we all despise.” 

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, rates the Kentucky Senate race as “likely” Republican.

Reid Wilson contributed to this report