Update 2:05 p.m.: The father of Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes deliberately violated federal law by funneling corporate contributions to his daughter's failed 2014 U.S. Senate campaign, a prosecutor said Tuesday at the start of a trial.
Jerry Lundergan's attorney characterized the contributions as mistakes during a hectic period when Grimes' campaign against Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell got off to a "rough start." But those mistakes did not amount to crimes, defense attorney J. Guthrie True said.
Both sides made opening arguments in a federal jury trial that could last about four weeks in Kentucky's capital city. Lundergan and another defendant, Dale Emmons, are accused of taking part in a conspiracy to funnel illegal contributions to Grimes' high-profile Senate campaign at a time when she was seen as a rising Democratic star.
The defendants are longtime friends and well-known political figures in Kentucky. Lundergan, a Lexington businessman, is an ex-state lawmaker and former chairman of the state Democratic Party. He's known for his close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Emmons is a veteran Democratic consultant who worked on campaigns for offices from courthouses to Congress. If convicted, both could face lengthy prison sentences.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Smith told jurors that the defendants made illegal contributions in a way that concealed them from the Grimes campaign's compliance team. It took a federal investigation pursuing a paper trail of invoices and checks to uncover the scheme, she said.
The defendants decided that the rule against corporation contributions "did not apply to them," she said.
"This case is about two men ... using secret corporate money to run a federal campaign their way," Smith said.
Lundergan's attorney said his client paid for some campaign expenses in the hectic early stages of his daughter's Senate bid when the campaign was understaffed. True said those contributions were mistakenly not listed in campaign reports.
"It's not a crime to make a mistake," True said.
Once the oversights were caught, the expenses were billed to Grimes' campaign and it repaid the money, he said.
In other cases, he said, some contributions at issue in the trial were for expenses not directly related to Grimes' campaign.
True described his client as a devoted family man, saying: "The evidence is going to show that Jerry Lundergan is fiercely loyal and he's protective of his daughter. And what else would you expect?"
Emmons' attorney, Brandon Wayne Marshall, said his client's expertise as a political consultant was in helping shape a campaign's message, not in the intricacies of reporting campaign finances.
"Dale has never, ever been involved in the complexities of campaign finance law," he told jurors.
He said that someone of Emmons' status as a political consultant wouldn't "risk it all" by willfully violating federal law.
The prosecutor offered a starkly different portrayal of what happened, saying the defendants "knew exactly what they were doing and they meant to do it."
Lundergan is accused of hiring vendors for his daughter's campaign but paying for them out of his business account and not asking for reimbursement from Grimes' campaign. An indictment showed Lundergan paid at least $218,000 for services that benefited Grimes' campaign. Part of that money went to Emmons. The indictment alleges that the conspiracy began with Grimes' campaign kickoff in July 2013.
Prosecutors could call as many as two dozen witnesses, including a Democratic strategist who served as a senior adviser to Grimes' campaign.
Grimes is finishing her second term as Kentucky's secretary of state and cannot seek reelection this year because of term limits. She considered running for governor this year but decided against it.
Original Post 8/13: The father of Kentucky's secretary of state is going to trial on charges that he made illegal contributions to his daughter's unsuccessful campaign to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Prosecutors allege that Jerry Lundergan hired consultants and vendors to work for his daughter's 2014 campaign, paying for them out of his business account without seeking reimbursement.
Federal authorities say that amounted to an improper campaign contribution.
Lundergan's daughter is Alison Lundergan Grimes, who lost to the Republican majority leader. Grimes has called the charges politically motivated and predicted her father will be vindicated.
Lundergan has been a fixture in Kentucky Democratic politics for decades. He's a former state lawmaker and formerly served as chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party.