FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A Democratic contender in the U.S. Senate
race raised questions Thursday whether his chief rival should be
accepting campaign contributions from utility companies.
Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo called on Attorney General Jack Conway
to return $67,000 in contributions from Kentucky Utilities and
Louisville Gas & Electric, saying Conway's office plays a role in
deciding rate hikes. A Conway spokeswoman called the accusation
"absurd" and said the attorney general did nothing wrong by
accepting the contributions.
The exchange is only the latest in an acrimonious campaign for
the Democratic nomination to run for the seat of retiring
Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, who opted not to seek a third
term. Public opinion polls have Mongiardo and Conway in a dead heat
as front-runners among five Democratic candidates.
Mongiardo held news conferences in Lexington and Louisville on
Thursday to complain that Conway is accepting money from the
utilities even though, as attorney general, his Office of Rate
Intervention routinely weighs in on whether increases are warranted
in cases before the Public Service Commission.
"The money is tainted. It is dirty," Mongiardo charged. "I
call on Attorney General Jack Conway to give back the money he has
pocketed from utility executives and their lobbyists and recuse
himself from future utility rate hike decisions."
Public Service Commission spokesman Andrew Melnykovych said the
attorney general's office often is only one of several agencies
that intervene in disputed rate cases. To resolve such cases,
Melnykovych said, all the parties must consent.
Conway campaign spokeswoman Allison Haley said she doesn't
dispute that the contributions were made. However, she said she
does dispute the claim that accepting them was wrong.
"We're disputing that Jack has done anything but protect rate
payers," Haley said. "We certainly deny that Jack has done
anything unethical. This is an absurd allegation."
Conway reported last week that he has received $2.5 million in
contributions since entering the Senate race last year, including
$215,000 banked since January. Mongiardo has raised $1.8 million,
including $312,000 since January.
The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to face a
well-funded Republican. Bowling Green eye surgeon Republican Rand
Paul and Secretary of State Trey Grayson have both raised about
$2.4 million in pursuit of the GOP nomination. They're among five
Republicans in the race.
Mongiardo said lobbyists for the two utilities, which are
seeking a $250 million rate hike, hosted a fundraiser for Conway in
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