PUBLIC POLICY – Former Kentucky Secretary Of State Facing Ethics Charges

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Kentucky’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission accused Democratic former Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes of misusing her office for personal and political purposes, according to an initiating order filed by the commission on Thursday.

The news comes nearly three years after ProPublica and the Lexington Herald-Leader investigated many of the same issues in a three-part series, extensively detailing Grimes’ “questionable” and “unprecedented” use of the state’s voter registration system as well as the “power grab” that gave her unusual sway over the State Board of Elections.

Grimes did not immediately respond to a request for comment; she previously defended her conduct in comments to ProPublica at the time of the series. If found to have run afoul of the code, Grimes could face fines of $5,000 for each violation.

The Kentucky ethics commission claims that Grimes committed two offenses. First, that she “used her position to direct her subordinates to use state time and resources to download and store information from the Voter Registration System onto flash drives for a personal, private purpose without following the established processes of government to obtain the information.” And second, that before the 2016 election: “Grimes used her position to direct her subordinates to use state time and resources to engage in political activities. Grimes directed an independent contractor of her agency to create lists of newly registered democratic voters and then directed a subordinate employee to email the lists to some democratic candidates.”

According to the initiating order, the ethics commission’s preliminary investigation of Grimes began in July 2017 and was expanded three times in the years that followed, including in 2020.

The series of articles by ProPublica and the Herald-Leader, which appeared in early 2019, noted the existence of state investigations into Grimes’ alleged misuse of the voter registration system. The series expanded on what was already known. It revealed that Grimes’ state investigations into Grimes’ alleged misuse of the voter registration system were ongoing. Grimes’ staff looked up former and current employees, a federal judge and the state education commissioner. They also searched for every member of Kentucky’s Board of Education. Grimes was even investigated by several members of its ethics commission.

The series also showed how Grimes gained broad control over the Kentucky State Board of Elections. This allowed her to quickly complete a no-bid contract for a cybersecurity firm owned by a political donor. It also delayed a consent decree requiring that she clean the state’s voter roll to improve accuracy.

Grimes was first elected as secretary of state in 2011, and again in 2015. She left office when her term expired in 2019, and she was barred from running again because of a state term limit. She attracted media attention in 2014 when she ran a spirited, but unsuccessful, senatorial campaign against Mitch McConnell in Republican-dominated Kentucky.

The ethics commission also filed an initiating order against Erica Galyon, who worked as assistant secretary of state under Grimes, claiming that she mishandled records requests in 2018 and 2019. According to the commission, Galyon instructed staff of the State Board of Elections in response to an open record request to Grimes’ personal lawyer to give documents to her but she later refused to provide the same documents to the member of the media who requested them. Jessica Huseman was then a reporter at ProPublica, and co-author of the series about Grimes. Galyon was unable to be reached immediately for comment.

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