Nearly 10 months after pledging to commit $50,000 to the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s political action committee gave its first contribution with a $25,000 check Friday.
The commission had been operating primarily on a $50,000 contribution from David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which was received less than a week after the hemp commission’s first meeting, according to records obtained by The State Journal through an open records request.
The PAC’s contribution was supposed to match his, Bronner believed.
“That was our understanding, but from our standpoint we’re just extremely thrilled that Sen. Paul has engaged like he has in coordination with Ag Commissioner (James) Comer to advocate on the industrial hemp issue like they have,” Bronner said in a phone interview.
Doug Stafford, executive director of Reinventing A New Direction PAC and Paul’s former chief of staff in the U.S. Senate, said in an email there has not been a delay in RandPAC’s contribution to the industrial hemp commission because there was never a set timeframe to collect and send funds.
Friday’s $25,000 check, which was deposited in the state treasury Monday, represents “a bit more than has been raised so far” in email and online fundraisers, he said, adding the PAC would likely contribute the remaining $25,000 by the end of the year as funds are raised.
Though news outlets reported the $50,000 contributions as matches and Bronner understood that to be the case, Stafford described the arrangement as more casual.
“My conversations with all participants was that RandPAC would be a partner in this endeavor and would help raise the additional funds needed beyond David Bonner’s generous $50,000 contribution,” Stafford said in the email. “The estimate at the time was for roughly ($100,000) over the year or so.”
RandPAC has brought in $928,554 in the first six months of the year, more than half the nearly $1.9 million the PAC raised from 2011 through 2012, according to RandPAC’s filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Brian Furnish, chairman of the hemp commission, confirmed that the hemp commission set no deadline on RandPAC’s $50,000 contribution and said the 16-member panel expected funds to come as they were raised.
“Nobody put a timetable on them,” Furnish said in a phone interview. “… (Bronner) put up ($50,000), and the way I understood it was that RandPAC would match it over time.”
The Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, which first met Nov. 14 after a 10-year hiatus, could survive with much less than the $75,000 contributed thus far.
Records obtained by The State Journal show the commission has spent $8,402, mostly on travel and industrial hemp marketing.
The commission paid travel costs for four witnesses — James Woolsey, former CIA director in the Clinton administration; North Dakota state Rep. David Monson; North American Industrial Hemp Council Vice Chairwoman Gale Glenn; and Dr. Paul Mahlberg, a professor emeritus of plant biology at Indiana University — to testify before the Senate Agriculture Committee as it considered Senate Bill 50, which passed at the 11th hour of this year’s legislative session and established the regulatory framework for industrial hemp farming in Kentucky.
The Feb. 11 committee meeting was also notable because Paul testified on behalf of SB50 alongside U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, and Thomas Massie, R-Vanceburg.
Bronner said Paul’s advocacy for industrial hemp both in Kentucky and D.C. is more important than his PAC’s monetary contribution to the industrial hemp commission.
“I can’t ask for anything more than that,” Bronner said of Paul’s push to legalize industrial hemp. “So we’re just super thrilled and in no way want to imply or impugn that we’re in any way unhappy with their efforts, regardless of where exactly they’re at at this point in time with their match.”
Bronner is happy leaving his money with the hemp commission, but he said he has spoken with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture about shifting some of his $50,000 contribution to other Kentucky hemp-related initiatives in the future, such as a hemp-breeding project at a public university.
The Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission is set to consider moving forward with an industrial hemp program at a meeting Thursday in light of the U.S. Justice Department’s determination to allow Colorado and Washington to implement laws on taxing and regulating recreational marijuana.
Furnish said he’s unsure whether the push to farm industrial hemp would increase the commission’s expenses.
Furnish, Stafford and Bronner expressed optimism that Kentucky will soon begin growing industrial hemp, possibly by next year.
“It looks like the gates are getting blown wide open,” Bronner said.