Jefferson County Judge’s Campaign Contributions Raise Questions

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Katie King

In the final weeks of her judicial race, Jefferson County District Judge Katie King has once again loaned her campaign an influx of cash.

It’s a pattern she’s followed in three successive elections cycles — and a maneuver for which she was once scolded and fined by state campaign finance officials.

In a race in which King billboards and campaign fliers have blanketed the city, records from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) show she borrowed $100,000 from a Farmers Bank and loaned the money to her campaign in two installments, on Sept. 2 and Oct. 2. No other information about the loans is provided.

A combination of factors raises questions about the loans. In 2009, King paid a $15,000 civil penalty after KREF determined she accepted $135,000 in monetary gifts from her father and then reported it as “candidate loans,” or loans from herself, violations of Kentucky’s campaign finance law.

The latest loans appear not to have been secured by the pledging of real estate, or other collateral, as there are no records filed in Jefferson County where she owns a home, which has a 30-year, $346,000 mortgage. And King has declined to provide any clarity.

She has not returned the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting’s calls for comment to her office or cell phone in the past week. Her campaign manager, Rob Holtzmann, said Wednesday she was unavailable and that the campaign would not comment “on a non-story.”

Jeffrey Shaman, a law professor at DePaul University in Chicago and an expert on judicial conduct and ethics, said that given the history of King’s campaign finance transgressions, the most recent loans deserve scrutiny.

“The judge should be more forthcoming in answering these questions,” he said.“If she can explain it, then fine. I certainly think that deserves an answer.”

Since 2008, King has loaned or given her campaigns more than $550,000, according to KREF’s online database.

In 2009, King and her father, Louisville Metro Council President Jim King, came under scrutiny when KREF officials received a complaint from local political activist Ed Springston. After an investigation, KREF officials found probable cause that King and her father violated Kentucky’s campaign finance laws during the 2008 election.

king conciliation agreement

According to the conciliation agreement, the elder King, also president of King Southern Bank, made three “extraordinary monetary gifts”  totaling $135,000 to his daughter — in violation of the state’s campaign finance laws — that he “clearly intended for Ms. King to use to fund her campaign for district judge during the 2008 general election cycle.”

The elder King gave his daughter:

  • $35,000 on Oct. 15, 2008
  • $50,000 on Oct. 24, 2008
  • $50,000 on Nov. 5, 2008.

Katie King then used the money for her campaign and improperly characterized it as candidate loans, records show.

Kentucky’s campaign finance law prohibits any person from contributing more than $1,000 to any one candidate per election. And it defines a contribution as any payment, distribution, loan, deposit, gift of money, or other thing of value. The law doesn’t make an exception for gifts from a candidate’s immediate family.

The state registry determined that the violations were “not committed knowingly” so the case was not referred for criminal prosecution. The elder King said he relied on an e-mail from a registry staff member regarding a candidate’s “private finances.”

Katie King and her father each paid $15,000 in civil penalties.

Springston also filed a complaint with the Jefferson County Attorney’s office, alleging felony campaign violations. The county attorney asked the Kentucky attorney general to appoint someone to review the complaint. The Kentucky State Police investigated the matter, but a special prosecutor wrote in a memo that there was “not sufficient evidence to support convictions” of King or her father.

According to the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, all district judges, including King, earn roughly $112,000 per year. King’s most recent financial disclosure, filed March 14, lists no stocks or bonds, though she is not required to disclose bank deposits. King also lists no other employment than her position as district court judge. Records show she also received an unspecified amount of compensation valued at more than $1,000 for legal services from the Kentucky Court of Justice. As a public official, she is not required to disclose her net worth.

In 2010, King again loaned her campaign large amounts of money in the waning days of the race. Her campaign’s November 2011 election finance statement reported that $196,960 in debt was owed to her as a result of personal loans she had made to her campaign.

In December 2011, Jim King wrote to KREF officials, asking for a formal advisory opinion about whether there existed a statutory limit on the amount of personal monetary gifts he and his wife could give their daughter.

In February 2012, KREF issued an opinion.

“… (Y)ou and your wife’s gifts to your daughter, Judge Kathryn R. King, should only be made consistent with a pattern of gifting or your estate plan without regard to the personal loan Judge King made to her 2010 campaign committee account or in contemplation of funds she may need to fund a future candidacy,” KREF general counsel Emily Dennis wrote.

Dennis added: “Great care should be taken to avoid any appearance that you are personally funding your daughter’s campaign efforts over and above the statutorily permissible contribution limits, and you may wish to consult a gift and estate tax planning professional to assist you in this regard.”

Jim King did not respond to two calls made to his cell phone about his daughter’s most recent loans.

Dennis, of KREF, estimated that the agency may receive up to 20 formal complaints in a major election year. Half of the complaints are usually substantiated and result in conciliation agreements. KREF has referred only two cases since 2008 for criminal prosecution.

Dennis said the agency did not receive any outside complaints about Judge King’s campaign in 2010. The agency has also not received any complaints during this year’s election cycle.

“You can’t conclude just based solely on the fact that she got fined in that one case that she is engaging in the same conduct,” she said.

Reporter Kristina Goetz can be reached at kgoetz@kycir.org or (502) 814.6546.