Boone GOP chairman denies $25K contribution is from single private donor

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

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Chet Hand, the chairman for the Boone County Republican Party, said that a $25,000 donation made to the party and then passed on to the Jessica Neal recount bond came from multiple donors – not just one.

Last week, LINK nky reported 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. 

Neal was defeated in the Republican Party primary for the open Senate District 24 seat, which does not have any part of Boone County within its boundaries. She has challenged the results in court.

“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 to LINK nky last week.

Shelton further confirmed that she was in the meeting and heard Chet Hand, the BCRP chairman, say the money came from “a donor.” 

Hand said her statement was false. 

“All of the statements put forth in the previous Link NKY article regarding the BCRP donations are categorically false,” Hand said. (Hand declined to answer questions for the previous story.) “We are very aware of the KREF (Kentucky Registry for Election Finance) regulations regarding contribution limits. We have not accepted any donations in a calendar year, from any single donor, in excess of the $5,000 individual maximum.”

Hand would not clarify where the donations came from or how much came from each donor. He also said it was “hearsay and rumors” but would not provide clarification when further questioned.  

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“Our donor information will be available on our KREF reports,” he said. 

Shelton also said that the donor “requested” the money go to the Neal recount, but Hand said donors have no control over how the BCRP spends the money.

“We have no control over the motivation behind why a donor would choose to donate to our Committee, however, once the money is in our possession, they also have no say on how it gets spent,” Hand said. “Our County Committee is comprised of 192 voting members. All funds spent by our committee are voted on by these members, based on the recommendations of our functional sub-committees to meet our strategic objectives.”

Secretary of State Michael Adams said in a Tweet he hopes the donation was made legally. Otherwise, it could be a felony.

In meeting minutes obtained from the Boone County Republican Party, it shows the party considers the Jessica Neal recount effort to be “the most pressing election integrity item in Northern KY.” 

“The Boone County Republican Party has been leading the charge on NKY’s election Integrity efforts,” Hand said. “Many donors have recognized this and financially supported our party. In the case of Republican Jessica Neal’s Primary Election recount, the recommendation of our Sub-Committee on Election Integrity was to take immediate action to support her campaign, given the short window she had to raise her bond. This action was voted on during our August special meeting.”

The minutes are from a special meeting that was called to take action on election integrity efforts. 

“Chairman Hand gave an update regarding the specific purpose of the meeting, to take action on recent donations to support our election integrity efforts, and consider the recommendation from the BCRP Election Integrity Committee,” the report says. 

Neal was the losing candidate in May’s Republican primary for the 24th Senate District, currently represented by Republican Senator Wil Schroder, who is not running for reelection. It is composed of Campbell, Pendleton, Bracken, and a small part of Kenton counties.

Neal finished second in a three-way race narrowly won by Shelley Funke Frommeyer, who 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 recount started on Aug. 10 and concluded on Aug. 11. Campbell County Clerk Jim Luersen said the machines behaved as they were supposed to, and in all four counties there was an issue with only one vote due to an “overvote.” 

An overvote is when a voter marks a ballot in such a way that the machine has trouble reading the ballot. The machine spits the ballot back out, and the voter has a chance to redo their vote. However, in the case of Campbell County, the voter chose not to recast their vote for the Senate race. However, when hand-counting the ballots, they were able to take that vote into consideration. 

While the outcome of the vote tally didn’t change, Neal filed a motion Thursday that said the machines weren’t properly sealed. 

“It is important to note that the machine’s seals will not be broken before the team is ready for counting that particular machine,” the motion reads. “Machines that arrived to the court with seals already broken cannot be verified as to whether their contents reflect the same contents exactly as appeared on election night at 6:00 p.m. May 17.”

Luersen said everything was done by the book and legally. 

“The seals she’s talking about are on a part of the machine that has no access to the ballots and is not required,” Luersen said. 

Campbell County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Zalla is presiding over the recount case. He will hear Neal’s motion at 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 19.

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