What ‘Outside Money’ Means For Kentucky’s Gubernatorial Primary

Mar 31, 2015

Credit Moritz Wickendorf, Wikimedia Commons

Money supporting Kentucky gubernatorial candidates from outside their campaigns will play a role in this year’s primary—a new development for the state.

The spending from political action committees on the state-level election means voters may see differences compared to Kentucky’s last governor’s race, a political experts says.

One potential change: more negative ads.

The Courier-Journal reported this week a political action committee with ties to the Koch brothers has filed paperwork with the state. The Bluegrass Action Fund is throwing its support behind former Louisville Metro Council member Hal Heiner.

The C-J also reports a political action committee called Kentuckians for Growth, Opportunity and Prosperity has begun airing ads for James Comer.

Last year’s heated Senate race attracted a great deal of outside spending. But outside spending on a state-level race in Kentucky is “new territory,” said Dewey Clayton, a political science professor for the University of Louisville.

“You know, even though the Senate races are statewide, these are still federal offices. But here you are talking about state offices,” Clayton said. “So you are talking about this sort of infusion of cash now sort of filtering down even to state races, and that’s something new.”

D. Stephen Voss, an elections expert and professor at the University of Kentucky, said the timing of this outside spending is what he finds most interesting.

“It’s a little surprising to see money flowing in during the primary season, though, squaring off over candidates who have not really distinguished themselves ideologically yet,” Voss said.

Voss said he’s not shocked outside groups are eyeing smaller races, though. He said federal elections are currently saturated with outside spending and political groups are getting “less bang for their buck.”

“It does make sense that the money is going start oozing out into other places in the political system where it is likely to have a little more impact than what we have been seeing with these overfunded campaigns in the last cycle or two,” he said.

But because this is relatively new for gubernatorial elections in the Bluegrass State, voters could see some differences during this election.

Negative ads, Voss said, will be more common this during this year’s election. He said outside money also tends to run negative ads that are nastier than negative ads from a candidate’s own campaign.

“The fear with outside money is that unlike politicians who are trying to have long-term careers someplace, the outside money doesn’t need to worry as much about reputation, the outside money doesn’t have to worry as much about playing fair because they are not building the same relationships,” Voss said.

Also, Clayton said among the biggest problems with too much outside money in state elections is the potential shift a candidate’s focus to issues outside of the state. He said it is important that outside spending does not surpass what Kentuckians are spending on elections in their own state.

“If you’ve got a state election, ostensibly you would prefer that that election be funded by the residents of that state because they are the ones that have a clearly vested interest in the policies and programs that are being funded,” he said.

Kentucky’s gubernatorial primary this year is May 19.