Nonprofit Group’s Expensive Attack Ads Driving GOP Debate

It’s 10 seconds James Comer probably wishes he could have back.

The Republican candidate for governor was asked why, as a state legislator in 2005, he voted for a bill that would increase legislative pensions. His answer, captured by WAVE-TV in Louisville, included silence and “you know,” ”there is” and “uh” before settling on: “That was clearly a bad vote.”

Now that 10 seconds is part of a new TV commercial beginning Monday in the Lexington and Bowling Green markets and paid for by the group Citizens for a Sound Government. The nonprofit supports Republican Hal Heiner’s campaign and has set the agenda for the crowded Republican primary with its expensive attack ads. At forums and debates across the state, the candidates seem to spend just as much time responding to those ads as they do talking about their platforms.

“They are just using a slush fund of dark money to spread lies,” Comer said.

A Lexington TV stati on did pull one of the nonprofit’s first ads – part of a $639,000 statewide buy earlier this month – that accused fellow GOP candidate Matt Bevin of not paying his taxes. Bevin contested the ad, saying he inherited the tax problems of a business he purchased and missed tax payments on his vacation home because of an error with the mortgage company. The ad aired for nearly two weeks before it was pulled.

But this latest TV ad is true. Comer did, as a state lawmaker in 2005, vote for a bill that made it possible for lawmakers to make more money from their public pensions. Instead of basing all lawmakers’ pensions on an assumed salary of $27,500, the bill let lawmakers use their actual state salaries to calculate their retirement benefits – salaries that in many cases were much higher.

Asked about his vote, Comer said “as governor I can do something about that.” He said if elected, he would work to pass a law eliminating legislative pensions for new members and allow current lawmakers to opt out of the retirement system.

“I’ll be the first legislator that will opt out of a legislative pension,” he said.

The Citizens for Sound Government group operates in the muddy waters created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. Unlike candidates, it is not limited in the amount of money it can raise from individual donors and doesn’t have to publicly disclose who those donors are.

“Our goal is to promote a long needed conservative renaissance in Kentucky,” president Alan Philp said. “We do that by…

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