Pro-Daniel Cameron PAC got $100K from party to lawsuit. His campaign, office say it’s OK

Silas Walker

Executives at Kentucky’s biggest so-called ‘gray machine’ company gave $100,000 in donations to a political action committee supporting Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s campaign for governor in mid-March.

That was a week before they filed a joint lawsuit against the state on March 28 challenging a bill passed to ban the machines in Kentucky.

The defendant: Cameron’s office.

Further, Pace-o-Matic executives gave Cameron’s campaign personal contributions on March 27, just one day before filing the suit.

Cameron’s campaign and Pace-o-Matic all deny any impropriety in the donation given to the state’s top attorney.

The company itself said that the suggestion that they might be trying to influence Cameron by contributing six figures to the PAC supporting him, Bluegrass Freedom Action, “is reaching to connect dots when there are none.”

“We plan to be working in Kentucky for years to come, therefore, like many organizations, we have made contributions to candidates that we believe fundamentally support Kentucky small businesses, veterans’ groups, and fraternal clubs (our customers),” the company said in a statement. “Additionally, any suggestion that we are attempting to sway an opinion through donations is reaching to connect dots where there are none.”

Krista Buckel, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement that they will defend all laws passed by the General Assembly and “will continue to do so.”

Cameron’s gubernatorial campaign manager Gus Herbert indicated the same.

“General Cameron has always been a staunch advocate of defending the laws passed by the General assembly. Unlike the last (Attorney General) Andy Beshear, he has defended Kentucky’s laws, not attacked them. In this specific instance, the Attorney General’s office has already been defending the legislation passed by the General Assembly. No matter who asks, he does the same thing, which is that he will stand up for what’s right and defend the laws of Kentucky,” Herbert said in a statement.

PACs like Bluegrass Freedom Action and the campaigns they support are barred by state law from coordinating, a subject that drew the attention of the Kentucky Registry of Finance when a finance report for a PAC supporting fellow GOP gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft showed that her husband Joe Craft had contributed $1.5 million.

The donations to Bluegrass Freedom Action came from three sources: a $50,000 donation from Pom (short for Pace-o-Matic) of Kentucky, and $25,000 contributions from Pace-O-Matic Chairman Michael Pace and Pace-O-Matic President Paul Goldean. In all, the PAC has raised $1.9 million total, mostly supported by the Concord Fund via $1.5 million in contributions. The Concord Fund is a conservative “dark money” group that has attempted to reshape America’s courts.

Pace-O-Matic has previously attempted to get Cameron in on a lawsuit in Rowan County by naming his office as a defendant, but Cameron won an appellate court ruling allowing his office to be excused, according to WDRB.

A lobbying group affiliated with Pace-O-Matic spent a record amount on lobbying expenses, $483,324, in the three months of this past session lobbying against the ‘gray machine’ ban bill that passed, House Bill 594. That bill took a rocky path towards final passage, particularly in the House where a surprise motion to table held it up. A member of House GOP leadership who voted against the bill was working as legal counsel for another large company in the industry, the Herald-Leader reported.

However, Pace-O-Matic has pointed out that the horse industry – which operates its own slot-like machines and calls them Historical Horse Racing – holds significant sway in the legislature and argued that their efforts to shut ‘gray machines’ out . A group tied to the industry, Louisville’s Churchill Downs in particular, spent $348,263 this legislative session to lobby for passage of House Bill 594, according to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission.

“Pace-O-Matic continues to be in the unfair position of defending its legal business against entities like Churchill Downs Inc., and others, that have enormous political capital in the state. That includes Churchill Downs Inc.’s massive donations to members of the legislature and other politicians,” noted a statement from the company.

The horse industry’s influence in Frankfort runs deep, and has persisted for more than a century dating back to the power of the Jockey Club in the early 20th century.

During the 2022 election cycle, Churchill Downs’ CEO Bill Carstanjen gave $2,000 or $1,000 to more than 100 state legislative candidates on both sides of the political aisle.

In 2023 campaigns, individuals tied to Churchill Downs have given large sums of money to incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear – the Democrats’ presumed 2023 nominee – and Craft. In the last two years, Beshear and the Kentucky Democratic Party have received $140,000 from people tied to Churchill Downs, according to the Kentucky Lantern.

Craft received $46,000 total from 30 people tied to Churchill Downs this year. Craft’s brother, Marc Guilfoil, was a longtime employee of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and worked as executive director there for six years until mid-2022.