FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Investigators from the attorney general's office have begun a probe to determine if some financial contributions to candidates for governor were improper.
"I can confirm we have an ongoing investigation," Attorney General Greg Stumbo said Monday.
The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance also is looking for ways to improve its auditing process to better identify questionable or unusual contributions.
The actions came in a wake of a story in The (Louisville) Courier-Journal that highlighted campaign contributions made by unlikely contributors.
"The article raised some legitimate concerns, and we're very interested in the issue," said Lea Pauley Goff, a member of the board of directors of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Stumbo said the Kentucky Bureau of Investigation in his office has examined the issue of illegal contributions in some past elections.
Stumbo said some individuals have been questioned by KBI agents since the story was published, but he declined to give details ofthe investigation.
The newspaper raised questions about the scores of secretaries, bookkeepers, clerks, office managers and others with apparently modest incomes who had been listed by various candidates as having made the maximum $1,000 contribution.
The story quoted one Tennessee donor as saying he was reimbursed by his cousin for the $1,000 he donated to the campaign of Democrat Steve Beshear. The campaign refunded this contribution when told about it.
And the story detailed an unusual pattern of multiple contributions from residents of Laurel and surrounding counties to Gov. Ernie Fletcher, his Republican primary rival Anne Northup and Democrat Steve Henry.
One of them, a 21-year-old woman who works as an $8.50-an-hour corrections officer, was listed as giving $1,000 to Fletcher, $1,000 to Northup and $500 to Henry.
State law prohibits a person from making a campaign contribution in the name of another. Doing so is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
While both the source of the money and the person used as a conduit for the contribution could be prosecuted, Stumbo said his investigation is targeting the sources.
"We have always focused on those who perpetrated the crime, not innocent people who may have gotten caught up in it," he said.
Marty Ryall, manager of Fletcher's re-election campaign, said he was unaware of the investigation.
"I think it's fine so long as he holds everybody to the same standard and is not singling out Gov. Fletcher to go on another witch hunt," he said.
Vicki Glass, spokeswoman for the Beshear campaign, said, "We are not aware of the inquiry but will provide any information asked for by the attorney general."
Goff noted that the registry is required to audit all statewide campaigns. Because those audits are in progress, she said she could not comment on any contributions, including those questioned in the article. But she said the article has caused the registry to review how it audits contributions.
"The registry staff right now is looking at the audit process -- including on the specific points of the degree to which the process is designed to uncover, shall we say, unlikely donors," she said. "If people are not giving their own money, we want to know about it, and we want to do something about it."
Information from: The Courier-Journal,
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)