Boone GOP receives $25k private donation for losing candidate’s recount effort

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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A private donor gave $25,000 to the Boone County Republican Party with a request that the money be given to the Jessica Neal recount bond, according to Emily Shelton, a Boone County Republican Party precinct captain and the Republican member of the Boone County Board of Elections.

“It was a donation made to the GOP with the understanding that that’s what the donor wanted us to use it for,” Shelton said.

Neal was the losing candidate in May’s Republican primary for the 24th Senate District, which does not include any part of Boone County. The district, currently represented by Republican Wil Schroder, who is not running for reelection, is made up of Campbell, Pendleton, Bracken and a small part of Kenton counties.

Neal finished second in a three-way race which Shelley Funke Frommeyer narrowly won. She will face Democrat and Highland Heights city council member Rene Heinrich in November.

Neal, a member of the Campbell County Republican Party’s election integrity committee, has pushed conspiracy theories about elections in Kentucky and their potential for fraud.

She took to the courts to seek a recount following her narrow loss where she was asked to pay more than $57,000 for the full recount.

The identity of the Boone Co. donor won’t be known until campaign finance reports are made public in a couple months, but questions have been raised over the size of the contribution.

“The maximum contribution per year from an individual to an executive committee is $5,000,” said John Steffen, the executive director for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Individuals can also only donate $2,000 to a candidate, or $4,000 per couple.

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Neal announced via social media that she paid the $57,368 required to continue with her recount effort in the 24th Senate District race. The recount began Wednesday morning.

“I am THRILLED to share with all of you that I posted the bond amount of $57,368 with the Campbell County Circuit Court Clerk this morning,” Neal wrote on Facebook. “None of this would have been possible without your generous support. Thank you.”

“It was a pretty close race, and I firmly believe in making sure we have secure elections,” Neal said in May on her reasoning for seeking a recount. Secretary of State Michael G. Adams, also a Republican, has called Neal’s efforts “frivolous.”

Last month, the state Board of Elections sought to dismiss Neal’s effort, but that motion was denied.

When asked why the private donor didn’t just give the money directly to Neal, Shelton said she questioned that herself. She also said she couldn’t reveal who the private donor was because she didn’t know. 

“He or she is not gonna get a tax break because we’re not a 501c3,” Shelton said. “So, I have no idea.”

Boone County Republican Party Chairman Chet Hand and Vice Chair Doug Bramer declined to comment for this story. 

It’s also unclear why the Boone County Republican Party donated money to a recount involving other counties, but the group recently censured Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, and the group has been outspoken in favor of hand counting ballots throughout Kentucky. 

“WHEREAS, Michael Adams, a high-ranking Republican officeholder, should be held to account for publicly disparaging anyone, especially fellow Republicans, who have taken it upon themselves, at great sacrifice of personal time and expense, to attempt to achieve openness and true voter integrity on behalf of all citizens in the Commonwealth,” the resolution said. 

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As secretary of state, Adams has been outspoken against these recounts, and often comes under attack from groups in support of hand counting ballots.

There is a statute that says candidates can receive contributions after an election for recounts and recanvasses, but the normal contribution limits still apply. 

“A candidate, slate of candidates, or a campaign committee may solicit and accept contributions after the date of a primary election, regular election, or special election to defray necessary expenses that arise after the date of the election associated with election contests, recounts, and recanvasses of a specific election,” according to Kentucky Revised Statutes 121.150. 

But, also under that statute it reads:

“No person shall make a payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit, or gift of money to another person to contribute to a candidate, a slate of candidates, committee, contributing organization, or anyone on their behalf.”

With Neal paying the recount bond, all four counties in the 24th District – Pendelton, Bracken, Campbell, and part of Kenton – must follow the Order for Recount Procedures, which states:  

“The custody of the voting machines, voting equipment, or voting system, the ballots, boxes, and all papers pertaining to the May 17, 2022, 24th District State Senate Republican Primary (“the primary”) shall be transferred to the Campbell Circuit Court except for Kenton County,” the order says, elaborating that Kenton County will deliver only the nine machines identified to contain ballots cast in this primary. 

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