Craft claims ignorance of husband’s $1.5M campaign donation. Election agency to review

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The biggest source of funding for Commonwealth PAC, a group supporting former ambassador Kelly Craft’s campaign for governor, is her husband Joe Craft who gave the group $1.5 million.

Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) Executive Director John Steffen said it “certainly raises concerns about potential coordination” between Craft’s campaign and the PAC, which would be a violation of state law.

When asked if she knew about her husband, who is a billionaire coal magnate philanthropist from Kentucky, dropping such a large amount of money into the PAC, Craft said that she didn’t know who funded the group.

“I have not been coordinating with Commonwealth PAC, so I couldn’t tell you who’s been funding it,” Craft said. “... What I’ve been focused on is criss-crossing the state and meeting as many Kentuckians as possible.”

Many of the other contributions to the PAC are tied to the coal industry, including a $50,000 donation from another executive at Joe Craft’s company, Alliance Coal.

Steffen told the Herald-Leader his agency “will be reaching out” to Commonwealth PAC regarding Joe Craft’s contribution.

A veteran of state government, Steffen was appointed to his post by the KREF board in May 2015. The board is primarily made up of gubernatorial appointees, though some restrictions are put in place based on partisan affiliation.

State law bars “any coordination, consultation, or cooperation” between independent expenditure groups like Commonwealth PAC and “any candidate, slate of candidates, campaign committee, or any authorized person acting on behalf of any of (candidates).”

In response to this story, Commonwealth PAC released a statement critical of a PAC supporting Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. It contrasted Commonwealth PAC, whose donors are publicly available, to the primary donor on Cameron’s PAC which is a dark money group whose funding sources are not publicly available.

“A contribution is not coordination,” the PAC said in a statement. “The Commonwealth PAC operates independently and follows the rules. Unlike the $1.5 million in dark-money contributions propping up committees backing Daniel Cameron, the Commonwealth PAC clearly discloses who is funding its mission.”

The $1.5 million referenced in the statement came from The Concord Fund, formerly the Judicial Crisis Network, which is best known for its attempts to influence the judiciary to become more conservative. The group is run by a former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In an interview after the debate, Craft also addressed her own contributions to her campaign, which exceed $7 million.

Craft pointed out that in the early goings of the campaign, her campaign outpaced its competition in getting donations from others, but said that she was “all in” on the campaign going forward.

Former ambassador Kelly Craft is pictured with her husband, Joe, who gave a PAC supporting her gubernatorial campaign $1.5 million.
Former ambassador Kelly Craft is pictured with her husband, Joe, who gave a PAC supporting her gubernatorial campaign $1.5 million.

“I am all in and I’m going to go all out because this is not about me. What matters is what happens right now. Today, we have to focus on defeating Andy Beshear,” Craft said.

When asked if she would financially support the eventual GOP nominee against Beshear if it’s not her, Craft only said that she would generally support the nominee.

On former president, and current 2024 GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump’s endorsement of Cameron — the current frontrunner according to a recently conducted poll — Craft said she was unfazed.

She did not, however, respond to a question asking if she or her team had reached out to Trump asking him to withdraw his endorsement or switch his support to Craft.