Unopposed, Stivers dips into stuffed war chest to boost Republicans, entertain supporters Skip to content

Unopposed, Stivers dips into stuffed war chest to boost Republicans, entertain supporters

Kentucky Senate president amended campaign finance disclosure after Lantern asked about missing details

5 min read
Senate President Robert Stivers confers with other Senate leaders. (AP Photo)

Since no one challenged him for reelection this year, Senate President Robert Stivers has used his overstuffed campaign fund as a sort of personal political action committee that makes political contributions of its own and has paid other expenses including nearly $10,000 for a dinner party to thank his donors and supporters at a posh Louisville restaurant.

The Manchester Republican who has presided over the Senate since 2013 launched an early fundraising push last fall while Kentucky’s political world was focused on the governor’s race. Stivers raised more than a half million dollars as traditional Republican donors, race track gambling companies, highway contractors and other special interests lined up to donate to the Kentucky General Assembly’s most powerful member.

Republicans who got contributions from Stivers’ reelection committee

  • Chris McDaniel, Ryland Heights, Senate 23rd District, $2,000
  • Jason Howell, Murray, Senate 1st District, $2,000
  • Johnnie Turner, Baxter, Senate 29th District, $2,000
  • Steve Meredith, Leitchfield, Senate 5th District, $2,000
  • Ed Gallrein, Shelbyville, Senate 7th District, $2,000
  • Matt Nunn, Sadieville, Senate 17th District, $2,000
  • David Givens, Greensburg, Senate 9th District, $2,000
  • Steve West, Paris, Senate 27th District, $2,000
  • Kim Moser, Taylor Mill, House 64th District, $2,000
  • Michael Meredith, Oakland, House 19th District, $2,000
  • Ed Massey, Hebron, House 66th District, $2,000
  • Tom O’Dell Smith, Gray, House 86th District, $2,000
  • Killian Timony, Nicholasville, House 45th District, $2,000
  • Timmy Truett, McKee, House 89th District, $1,000
  • Richard Heath, Mayfield, House 2nd District, $2,000

Note: Stivers’ report lists two contributions of $2,000 each to Steve Meredith. This is an apparent erroneous double entry because $2,100 is the limit for contributions to a candidate for state legislature.

The huge campaign war chest helped scare off any challengers, and the Jan. 5 deadline passed with no one filing to run against Stivers in this year’s election, leaving him about $500,000 with no race to run.

Reports filed by Stivers’ campaign committee with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) show that from the first of the year through Wednesday it has spent about $62,500. Only $3,690 of that went to basic campaign costs like printing, postage, and website design.

Most of the spending was for political contributions – including $29,000 in late April to candidates from the traditional wing of the Republican Party who face challengers in the May 21  primary.

Stivers amends his report

Kentucky Lantern’s initial review of Stivers’ disclosures also found some large unexplained reimbursements to Stivers.

Stivers’ report originally listed three payments to Stivers on Feb. 24 totaling $9,744. The purpose listed for each of the payments was  simply “Reimbursement” without the required explanation of what the reimbursement was for.

Stivers said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon that he thought his reports had included full explanations for all expenses and reimbursements. He said that the $9,744 was for a celebratory dinner in Louisville to thank his supporters and donors after no one had filed to run against him.

“We have all the documents and receipts,” he told theLantern. “If we need to we will file an amended report.”

That’s just what Stivers did later Thursday. The amended report says the $9,744 paid to Stivers was for “Reimbursement For Dinner For Donors And Supporters At Hotel Distil/Restaurant Repeal.”

The Repeal restaurant bills itself as “Whiskey Row’s only oak-fired steakhouse” that offers “an award-winning menu” and “internationally acclaimed wine list.”

Stivers insisted that he was never trying to obscure that his campaign paid for a fancy celebration. “I have nothing to hide.” He likened the dinner expense to the cost a candidate might incur to rent a hotel ballroom on election night to celebrate a victory. “This was a normal campaign expense.”

He also bristled at the suggestion that his campaign committee has become something of a political slush fund. “No. ‘Slush fund’ has an illegal connotation. This is not illegal. ... These are normal expenses, I’ve done it in the past.”

Stivers said making political contributions, or making donations to local civic organizations, sponsoring a sports team or club at a local school, giving dinners or gifts to supporters are all true political expenses that establish loyalty from supporters and goodwill in the community.

“It’s good politics. I want to thank them,” he said.

Here’s a closer look at what Kentucky Lantern’s review of Stivers’ campaign finance reports shows.

A windfall of contributions last fall

Between Sept. 21 and Dec. 6 last year Stivers raised about $510,000 — an extraordinarily large amount for a state legislator. The windfall included donations from 82 special interest PACs totaling about $100,000.

Gambling interests gave big: Officials of Churchill Downs gave $16,350, officials of Kentucky Downs in Franklin gave a bit more — $16,800.

Longtime donors to establishment incumbent Republicans gave: Terry Forcht, head of Forcht Bank in Corbin and other businesses, gave the maximum contribution allowed — $2,100. At least 16 officials of  Forcht’s companies gave another $20,000.

Alliance Resource Partners CEO Joe Craft and his wife Kelly Craft each gave $2,100. The Alliance PAC gave $2,000.

Spending: Reimbursements to Stivers

The biggest payee so far this year has been Stivers himself. The campaign has reimbursed him $11,547 since the start of the year including a total of $9,944 to pay for the dinner party at Repeal. (That includes the initially undisclosed $9,744 plus another $200 that was fully disclosed in Stivers’ initial reports.)

Besides that big dinner’s cost, reports list $1,874 in additional reimbursements to Stivers when he picked up the tab for supporters, donors and friends. Here’s the list:

  • $995 for “Gifts of Breakfast Meats for Supports And Donors”
  • $210 for “Breakfast For Supporters”
  • $139  for “Chick-Fila Lunch for Staff”
  • $167 for “Lunch For Clay County Students At Capital Annex Café”
  • $100 for an April 30 for “Dinner With Owsley Co. Officials And Supporters.”

Civic and charitable donations – $1,500

The campaign lists five payments as sponsorships, purchases of advertising, or donations to the following groups since Jan. 1: $1,000 to Oneida Tourism, $250 to Oneida Outdoor Adventures, $100 to Shriners, $50 to “CCMS”, and $100 to Owen County High School.

Political donations – $44,000

Early this year his campaign gave $5,000 to the Kentucky House Republican Caucus Committee, $5,000 to the Senate Republican Caucus Committee, and $5,000 to a state Republican Party trust dedicated to electing the party’s state Senate candidates.

And in the last two weeks his campaign reported making 15 contributions totaling $29,000 to candidates for the Kentucky House and Senate who do face opposition this year. Those donations went mostly to incumbent Republican members of the Kentucky Senate and House and challengers who could be described as more traditional Republicans rather than candidates of the so-called “liberty” faction of the party.

Stivers’ campaign committee reported on Wednesday it still has $406,921 on hand.


Written by Tom Loftus. Cross-posted from the Kentucky Lantern.

Print Friendly and PDF

Kentucky Lantern

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service. We’re based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.