by Heather Tomlinson
A second complaint accusing Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler of violating campaign finance laws is set for a hearing in Frankfort this week.
Alice Ping, wife of local real estate developer Brook Ping, who is also a “unified government” leader, submitted a formal complaint to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance last month.
The complaint, which alleges that Girdler personally helped pay for the printing and distributing of Pulaski County High School basketball schedules for the 2013-2014 season but failed to include the “paid for by” statement, was received by the registry of election finance on Feb. 24.
According to KRS 121.190(1), “all newspaper or magazine advertising, posters, circulars, billboards, handbills, sample ballots, and paid-for television or radio announcements relating to the candidacy of any person for public office include a disclaimer indicating by whom the cost of the material was paid.” Alice Ping states in her complaint that the basketball schedules — which are small enough to fit into a billfold or pocket and can be folded and unfolded — violate that statute.
The front and back of the schedules have “Mayor Eddie Girdler” in bold, with the phrase “Thanks to every parent, family member, and friend for supporting our students and athletes.”
Girdler on Tuesday said he agreed to help print the schedules sometime over the summer of 2013.
“It was never intended as a campaign thing at all,” said Girdler.
Girdler said in between his decision to help with the schedules and the delivery of the schedules, he filed for re-election.
“By law, I had to report it, so I did,” said Girdler.
A search of Girdler’s campaign finances on the KREF website (www.kref.state.ky.us) for the upcoming May 20 primary election, reported as of Dec. 31, 2013, shows that Girdler paid out a total of $378.84 out of his campaign account, which was shown as having an ending balance of $6,831.16.
Girdler said $300 of the total $378.84 in disbursements went toward the schedules.
Girdler is running for re-election and will be facing off against current City Councilor Jim Rutherford and local businessman Alan Keck in the May 20 primary election. The top two vote-getters will move on to the November general election.
Girdler said he was “trying to help the kids” and said the allegation is “about the most ridiculous accusation that could be brought against anybody.”
The issue also boils down to the size of the schedules. According to KRS 121.190, “disclaimers shall not be required for calling cards smaller than three and one-half (3 1/2) inches by five (5) inches ...”
When the schedules are folded, they don’t exceed the 3 1/2 by 5 inches. But when unfolded, there are some questions as to whether the schedule indeed goes over the measurement. Girdler said the schedule, when unfolded, may go over the measurement by “a half of a square inch.”
Girdler pointed out that the schedules have been out since October and November and said the complaint wasn’t filed until after the high school basketball season had ended.
This is the second complaint Ping has filed against Girdler in recent weeks. The state’s registry of election finance on Feb. 28 received a formal complaint from Ping alleging Girdler of vote-buying.
Ping’s complaint is based on a decision by Somerset City Council, handed down during the Jan. 13 city meeting, to offer a one-time $30 credit to city utility customers — those that use city water, sewer, and/or natural gas — who live in the city. They also voted to offer a one-time $15 credit to natural gas customers located outside the city limits.
The $15 credit also applied to Ferguson residents currently receiving a city utility service.
The offer didn’t apply to businesses.
Ping’s complaint followed a letter, sent from city hall to affected customers, earlier that month informing them of the credit.
“We realize that the cold weather is a hardship on all families and customers,” states the city letter. “We hope that the ... credit on your utility bill will, in some small way, help each family and customer during these hard times.”
The complaint also contained an allegation that the city had provided “free food to potential voters in a meet and greet session paid for by the taxpayers.”
Girdler last week said the city had a “Customer Appreciation Day” in February at Rocky Hollow Park that included hot dogs and other food items.
Ping’s vote-buying complaint received a response from the state, written on March 7. According to the letter, Emily Dennis, general counsel with the registry of election finance, informed Ping that her complaint about the utility credit did not “... recite facts which support the allegation of a violation of a campaign finance statute or administrative regulation.”
Dennis said that no further action would be taken on Ping’s complaint and she suggested that she file the complaint of possible vote-buying with the city’s ethics board.
Girdler on Tuesday said the issue concerning the pocket schedules has been resolved, but a spokesperson with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance Tuesday afternoon said the issue was still scheduled to go before a board in Frankfort on Thursday.