Ex-Kentucky Secretary of State Fined $10,000 for Unethical Conduct
The Executive Branch Ethics Commission of Kentucky has finally completed its investigation of Democrat Alison Grimes, a former secretary of state who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Senate against Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014.
The commission, in a unanimous vote, has fined her $10,000 for abusing “her position and influence” to provide 18 Democratic candidates with official, confidential voter lists in violation of state law in an obvious attempt to aid their political campaigns.
The commission opened its investigation in 2021, after her father, Gerald “Jerry” Lundergan, a former state representative and former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party, was convicted of violating federal campaign finance laws.
Along with a political consultant, who was also convicted, Lundergan illegally funneled more than $200,000 from one of his companies to his daughter’s Senate campaign. He sought to appeal his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected the appeal in May 2022.
At the time that she was running against the Republican McConnell, Grimes was Kentucky’s secretary of state, and she remained in that office until 2020.
She was never charged in the federal prosecution involving her father and claimed she had no knowledge of the “day-to-day operations” of her own Senate campaign or the illegal corporate financing by her father.
But she was charged with violating Kentucky’s state ethics laws for her misbehavior while she was secretary of state. The commission’s “Final Order,” which was issued on May 19, details its findings that were based on “clear and convincing evidence,” including Grimes’ own admissions, documents such as email communications, and “facts that the parties do not dispute.”
Grimes ordered her staff to “download information from the Voter Registration System onto flash drives,” including “lists of newly registered voters.” The “purpose of downloading the information was to distribute voter lists to selected Democratic Party candidates.” That, said the commission, “is undisputed.”
None of the forms that the law requires be completed by anyone requesting voter information were completed, and none of the fees that state law imposes were charged to those Democratic candidates.
Moreover, the candidates were provided with “personal information” of voters that state law prohibits being released.
Grimes tried to claim as a defense that she was responding to an open records request under state law. But as the commission pointed out, the information she distributed electronically to the Democratic Party candidates is protected from disclosure under the Open Records Act of Kentucky.
Moreover, Grimes couldn’t produce any evidence that her office ever actually received an open records request. There were no “Open Records request forms” in the file and “no evidence documenting receipt of an Open Records request.”
The commission did not directly call Grimes a liar, but it said that her defense that she was responding to an open records request was “incredible and implausible.” Even if she had been, it was “processed contrary to law because personal information was released” and none of the required forms or fees were completed or charged.
Grimes could not plead ignorance of the law according to the commission. She “conferred that benefit knowingly”—providing Democratic candidates with voter lists to which they were not entitled, in violation of state law. She was “not laboring under a good faith misunderstanding of the law,” since the Kentucky statutes governing this are “unambiguous,” and the secretary of state “would know the requirements of the law she administered.”
In fact, it “would be disingenuous and incredible to suggest that she did not.”
She also knew the rules governing voter information “from personal experience because she, as a candidate,” when she was running for office, “requested voter lists from the Secretary of State’s Office and paid the required fees.”
She would know that “Open Records requests require redaction of personal information.”
Grimes, said the commission, “had to know she was providing information to which the recipients were not entitled.” In its dry, legal, straightforward exposition of the facts, the commission makes it very clear that Grimes knowingly violated Kentucky law as a government official in partisan actions intended to help candidates of her own political party.
Kentucky is lucky that Grimes is no longer its secretary of state, a position that, because it administers elections, requires honest, ethical officials. And the state’s residents are fortunate that someone willing to engage in such unprincipled behavior is not their U.S. senator.
Grimes joins her father in the annals of Kentucky’s political history as another unethical politician who was willing to abuse her position of public trust, as the commission concluded, to “confer a benefit and advantage” to her political friends and allies.
Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email [email protected] and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.