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Indicted Political Operative Departs Posts For Kentucky Candidates

J. Tyler Franklin

A veteran Republican political operative has left two campaigns of Kentucky candidates following the revelation that he's under a federal indictment on bribery charges.

State auditor candidate Mike Harmon announced Thursday the resignation of campaign manager Jesse Benton.

Meanwhile, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that America's Liberty PAC, which supports Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, issued a statement detailing Benton's leave of absence from the organization, for which he was a consultant.

A federal grand jury indicted Benton late last month on bribery charges stemming from the operative's work on the 2012 presidential campaign of Ron Paul, Sen. Rand Paul's father. The charges were made public on Wednesday.

The  grand jury accused  Benton of conspiracy, causing false records, causing false campaign contribution reports and making false statements to law enforcement. Benton and two other former aides are accused of bribing an Iowa state state senator in exchange for an endorsement of Ron Paul's campaign.
In a news release, Harmon said he knew the FBI was investigating Benton but not that an indictment was forthcoming.

“[W]e discussed that accusation, I was satisfied that those were just that, accusations and, that the issue was settled,” Harmon said in the news release.

Benton has multiple ties to Kentucky politics: he's married to Rand Paul’s niece, and he served as campaign manager for part of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 2014 re-election bid.

On Wednesday, Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen—who is seeking re-election—lashed out at Harmon. On Twitter, Edelen wrote:

In his statement Thursday, Harmon launched his own criticism of Edelen, accusing him of conducting costly audits in small counties and changing his position on a proposal to bond $3.3 billion to the struggling Kentucky Teacher Retirement Systems.

Edelen leads Harmon 35 percent to 31 percent, with 30 percent undecided, according to a Bluegrass Poll of Kentucky voters released last week.

(Featured image of Mike Harmon. Photo by J. Tyler Franklin)

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.