Tuesday’s ethics ruling in three sexual harassment complaints by Legislative Research Commission staffers — and the accused former lawmaker’s $250 campaign donation to Alison Lundergan Grimes — have sparked a war of words on women’s issues in the U.S. Senate race.
Grimes’ campaign said late Wednesday that two of the three women involved in complaints against former Rep. John Arnold told the candidate to keep Arnold’s $250 contribution “and fight.”
Arnold, a Sturgis Democrat, avoided punishment Tuesday after motions to find him guilty of ethics violations failed in a 4-1 vote by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission. The nine-member commission requires five votes to take action; three members were absent and one seat is vacant.
Grimes expressed disappointment in the commission’s decision in an earlier statement, but said she was glad Arnold resigned.
The women — Yolanda Costner, an adviser to House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, and Cassaundra Cooper, an aide to House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook — told The State Journal Grimes offered to refund the donation, but they suggested she keep it.
“He (Arnold) didn’t have to pay the ethics commission, so maybe that $250 he paid to Alison Grimes can go toward fighting women’s rights,” Costner said. “If it’s going to help on women’s rights issues and that’s what she’s advocating for, we told her it was for the best for her to keep it.”
Cooper, who said she and Costner spoke with Grimes in a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon, called the three-figure sum “pennies in a bucket” in the grander scheme. Grimes had $3.3 million in her campaign coffers as of Dec. 31 while U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reported $10.9 million on hand.
“We just told her, ‘We don’t have a problem with you accepting money from him (Arnold); you need to fight against the wrongs that he’s been doing to people,’” Cooper said.
McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore had issued a statement before the women’s decision became public, charging that Grimes is “more interested in exploiting women for political gain than speaking out for victims in her own building who are being railroaded by an old boys club in her own party.”
Moore also questioned donations totaling $5,200 from Lebanon attorney Elmer George, an appointee to the ethics commission by House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
George, who also donated $2,000 to her 2011 secretary of state campaign, was the lone dissenter in Tuesday’s vote, questioning the panel’s ability to punish a former legislator.
Charly Norton, Grimes’ campaign spokeswoman, alluded to a GOP filibuster in the U.S. Senate Wednesday that blocked debate on legislation that would curb wage discrimination against women. Grimes has continuously mentioned McConnell’s votes against such bills on the campaign trail and in press releases, including one issued Wednesday.
“It’s alarming that on the same day McConnell led his caucus to block Paycheck Fairness in the Senate, his campaign is taking advantage of female victims of sexual assault to boost his flailing re-election campaign,” Norton said in a statement. “McConnell’s latest display is politics at its lowest, and there seems to be no depth Mitch McConnell is unwilling to sink to distract Kentuckians from his failed record of fighting for the Commonwealth’s women and families.”
McConnell’s camp wasted little time in firing a rebuttal.
“There is no permission slip for failing to speak out for women who were victimized in the workplace,” Moore said. “This isn’t a partisan question, this is a question about whether someone lacks the courage to speak out against her own party when they’ve clearly allowed an incredible injustice to move forward.”
Grimes’ campaign left George’s $5,200 contribution unaddressed. Costner and Cooper expressed concerns Tuesday that his vote was cast politically, an allegation George called “an insult” after the hearing.
Costner said ultimately, she had no opinion on George’s donation.
Tuesday’s verdict, though, was “another slap on the behind,” she said. She testified that Arnold had grabbed the back of her pants and underwear while walking behind her on the Capitol Annex steps in 2010.
“It’s just part of the game,” Costner told The State Journal when asked about George’s contribution. “That’s the way the game’s played.”