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Louisville Metro Council member facing $20,000 in fines for campaign finance violations

Interior of Metro Council hallway
J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM
Candidates for office in Kentucky are required by law to file disclosures about their fundraising and spending.

Louisville Metro Council Member Donna Purvis has accumulated nearly $20,000 in potential fines for failing to file her campaign donation disclosures on time, according to a staff report from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Donna Purvis, a Democrat representing District 5 in west Louisville, failed to meet numerous filing deadlines during her 2022 reelection campaign. She’s also more than 700 days late on filing an annual disclosure that was due in 2020 for her election two years prior.

These disclosures are required under state law and are the only way for the public to know which individuals or organizations are funding candidates for public office. Candidates face fines for every day they fail to file.

By the letter of the law, Purvis owed $19,650 in late fees as of Jan. 7, 2023, but she may end up paying less after settlement negotiations with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance conclude.

In the report issued by KREF earlier this year, the agency’s staff noted this isn’t the first time they’ve had difficulty getting Purvis to comply with state law.

“...The Purvis Campaign Fund has a long history of non-compliance with Kentucky campaign finance law, with a number of campaign finance reports being filed only as a product of attempts to clear up this matter,” the report states.

Headshot of Donna Purvis
Louisville Metro Council
District 5 Council Member Donna Purvis

Details of Purvis’ issues with campaign finance have become public as KREF investigates a complaint filed against her by Denise Bentley in Dec. 2022. Bentley is a former Metro Council member who served as Purvis’ legislative assistant before she was fired in 2022.

In addition to failing to file the donation reports, Bentley alleged Purvis violated state laws related to accepting cash donations and mingling personal funds with campaign money.

In response to LPM News’ request for comment, Purvis responded, “Nope.”

Through her attorney, Anna Stewart Whites, Purvis told KREF last year that her failures to comply with campaign finance were “good faith mistakes” and attributed them to “difficulties in using the KREF electronic reporting format during its first full year in use.”

“Candidate Purvis attempted at all times to treat her contributors and supporters transparently and to comply with the general duty of good faith and fair dealing imposed on persons in Kentucky,” Purvis’ attorney wrote.

According to the recent KREF staff report, obtained by LPM, Purvis did eventually file her financial disclosures, as her attorney promised. By then, KREF had already tallied the nearly $20,000 in late fees against her.

The second-term Metro Council member also told KREF that Bentley is suing her over an employment dispute and “Bentley’s assertions and claims should be taken with that in mind.”

Bentley said in an interview Thursday that her decision to file the complaint against Purvis wasn’t motivated by personal animosity. She said she was concerned about fairness and transparency in the 2022 race for Metro Council District 5.

“Everyone’s knocking on doors, everyone’s tired, everyone has to go home to their families, but they still have to make deadlines,” Bentley said. “I think that’s particularly important when you’re a candidate in a race that’s being closely watched.”

One of Purvis’ primary opponents, Ray Barker, said he was in the audience when the KREF board held a hearing on the case earlier this year. Barker, who’s better known in the community as “Sir Friendly C,” lost to Purvis by just 35 votes.

Barker said campaign finance disclosures are the only way candidates can keep tabs on their opponents, so it’s not fair if one candidate doesn’t comply with the law.

“Every campaign donation that I got, I recorded,” he said. “She had access to who was giving to me. She had access to how I was spending it … but when I looked at hers, I had no access to anything she was doing.”

Barker likened the situation to a card game “where she can see all of my hand,” but he couldn’t see hers. He said voters also need this information when they’re deciding who to support.

In the recent report, KREF staff said they found no reason to believe that “the violations were the result of anything beyond "sloppy bookkeeping” or that they were “committed knowingly.”

They also looked into other allegations of campaign finance violations against Purvis.

Bentley alleged that Purvis accepted a $400 cash donation, in violation of state law that sets the cash limit at $100. KREF staff determined from bank records that there was no wrongdoing because Purvis refunded the donor $300 within the time required by state law. KREF staff also rejected an allegation that Purvis violated state law when naming the treasurer of her campaign fund.

The agency found Purvis did make mistakes with mixing personal and campaign funds, twice misdirecting campaign funds into her personal bank account. KREF staff also said Purvis paid money to Bentley and to a printing company from her personal funds, but she never disclosed the $1,500 paid to Bentley on her forms.

Agency staff found Purvis in violation of the requirement that candidates must report all contributions when she didn’t disclose a $1,000 check from the Charter Spectrum Employee PAC during her 2022 primary. She didn’t update her disclosures to reflect the donation until a year later, after Bentley’s complaint was filed.

Purvis and her attorney are now in settlement negotiations with the executive director of KREF to determine how much she’ll actually have to pay in fines. The negotiations are in the “infant stages,” according to a KREF official. Purvis could end up paying less than the $20,000 she owes based on the agency’s current penalty schedule.

In Kentucky, candidates can legally use campaign donations to pay off fines.

The KREF board is expected to vote on a proposed settlement agreement at its next meeting on June 6.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.