- The Federal Election Commission unanimously threw out the Kentucky GOP chair’s 2019 complaint.
- The complaint in part alleged that Simon & Schuster illegally funded a potential challenger to McConnell.
- The book publisher’s lawyer said the complaint used “circuitous, baseless, and repetitive rhetoric.”
In early September, the Federal Election Commission unanimously threw out a complaint filed by Kentucky GOP Chairman J. McCauley Brown against Kentucky radio host Matt Jones, who publicly mulled running as a Democrat against Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2019. The decision was made public on Friday.
The November 2019 complaint – which also included Simon & Schuster, iHeartMedia and Kentucky Sports Radio – alleged that Jones’s book deal and his employment at a Kentucky radio station constituted illegal campaign donations under federal election laws, even though Jones hadn’t actually decided to run for office yet.
In particular, Brown alleged that Simon & Schuster was “paying for [Jones’s] statewide campaign tour” which was “linked” to his candidacy, citing a $US30,000 ($AU40,054) advance paid to Jones in October.
As a result of Brown’s complaint, Jones was temporarily taken off the air. Though he had filed FEC paperwork for an exploratory committee, he ultimately decided against running for Senate just days after the complaint.
Jones would go on to finish his book deal with Simon & Schuster, publishing “Mitch, Please!” in March 2020 following a tour of all 120 counties in the state.
-Simon & Schuster (@SimonBooks) November 30, 2019
Now, almost two years later following an extended lack of quorum at the commission, all six members of the nation’s top election regulation body have found that Brown’s original complaint had no merit. They cited Jones’s intention to write the book “whether I run [for Senate] or not,” a “press exemption” for the radio station that employed Jones, and the fact that the Simon & Schuster book deal constituted “bona fide commercial activity.”
The book publisher’s lawyers offered a lengthy and colorful response to the Kentucky GOP’s complaint in a 56-page document that included Jones’s entire publishing agreement and a scan of the $US30,000 ($AU40,054) check paid to the radio host.
“If the Commission takes the bait, it would violate the First Amendment and the Act’s press exemption, both of which protect the publication of information by citizen authors critical of their government and its officials,” the response read. “The linchpin of the Complaint’s allegation is circuitous, baseless, and repetitive rhetoric.”
The response would go on to accuse Kentucky GOP of using “a time-worn technique used by despots, propagandists, and political flacks to instill belief in false information” as well as “extensive distortions and misinformation.”
The publisher’s response also cited the “illusory truth effect,” which is a “technique with a dark pedigree and history in politics.”
iHeartMedia, arguing that it fell within the FEC’s press exemption, said in its response that it “simply makes no difference that the show’s host is a federal candidate, nor that he or she recently filed a Statement of Candidacy with the FEC.”
The Republican Party of Kentucky did not respond to a request for comment.