Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign released quotes Tuesday supporting its claims of paying fair-market value to rent a campaign bus from her father’s business.
The claims come after a national media outlet raised questions as to whether the rental included illegal in-kind contributions from former state Democratic Party chairman Jerry Lundergan’s company.
That didn’t stop Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign and GOP groups from using the report by POLITICO to question Grimes’ ethics for her family’s role in “improperly” subsidizing her political apparatus.
POLITICO reported Monday that Lundergan’s Signature Special Event Services purchased a 45-foot, 2003 Prevost bus Aug. 30, 2013, then rented the vehicle to Grimes for nearly $11,000 through June.
The Grimes campaign rented the bus for 24 days, meaning it paid what amounts to $456 per day, far below what four other companies referenced by POLITICO charge daily. McConnell’s bus tour through eastern Kentucky cost the incumbent about $2,200 per day in transportation expenses, according to POLITICO.
The national outlet interviewed former Federal Election Commission attorney Larry Noble, who said Signature Special Event Services charging Grimes’ campaign below market value for the bus service could be an illegal in-kind contribution.
“If they can show that in fact that her campaign could have gone on the open market and gotten the bus for that price, then it’s market value,” Noble told POLITICO. “But if all the evidence is that the bus would have cost several times as much, then that’s not going to work.”
Grimes’ campaign, in response to the report, provided quotes from two companies in September and advertisements from two more that show comparable rental rates, though not including driver and fuel costs.
Staley Coach & Sales of Madison, Tenn., charges $150 to $175 per day for a 2003 Prevost coach, according to a Sept. 5 quote; North Side RV of Lexington charges $180.36 per day for a similarly aged smaller bus, according to a Sept. 27 quote; Star Coach of Atlanta advertises Prevost buses between $350 and $750 per day plus $200 for a driver; and Coast to Coast Coach of Santa Clarita, Calif., advertises between $300 to $550 per day for similar buses.
Marc Elias, Grimes’ campaign attorney, responded in the report and in a statement to The State Journal defending the propriety of the expenses.
“The law requires that the campaign pay ‘the normal and usual fare or rental charge for a comparable commercial conveyance of sufficient size to accommodate all campaign travelers,’” Elias said in the statement. “In determining the appropriate rate, the campaign obtained quotes for the rental cost of a comparable vehicle from other providers in the Kentucky and regional market, and arrived at a reasonable reimbursement cost. We have reviewed the campaign’s methodology and agree that it complies with the applicable rules.”
Although the campaign’s legal arm found the campaign bus expenses defensible, that didn’t deter McConnell’s camp and other Republicans from voicing their concerns.
“The revelation that Alison Lundergan Grimes has potentially accepted large, illegal gifts and services from her father, Jerry Lundergan’s corporate interests is shocking and should set off warning bells for all Kentuckians concerned about ethics in public office,” McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said in a statement. “Alison has a lot of tough questions to answer about how her family, and their corporate interests, have improperly subsidized her political operation.”