Commission alleges Grimes violated ethics code, improperly assisted Democratic candidates

By Austin Horn

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The state’s ethics commission has officially alleged that Alison Lundergan Grimes, once a rising star in the state Democratic party, improperly used her office for personal and political purposes when she served as Secretary of State.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission sent Grimes and her former assistant secretary of state Erica Galyon “initiating orders,” which officially allege that both of them violated the state ethics code, on Thursday.

Grimes faces two counts of violating the ethics code. The first claims that she directed subordinates to download information through the state’s Voter Registration System without going through the proper channels for a “personal, private purpose.”

The second count claims that Grimes, prior to the 2016 election, improperly used her position to benefit Democratic candidates.

“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,” the order reads. “The lists were created using the Voter Registration System and were provided to the candidates at no cost in a format that is not provided by law.”

Grimes could not immediately be reached for comment.

The commission also alleged that Galyon, who served as assistant secretary of state under Grimes in the late 2010s, improperly withheld records from the news media in 2018-2019. Galyon had previously given the same records to Grimes’ personal legal counsel, and altered the records that she ended up giving media, according to the order.

Grimes and Galyon have 20 days to respond once served with the documents. After that, the matter goes to an administrative hearing officer, a private attorney on contract with the commission, who will hear the merits of the case and issue a decision. Katie Gabhart, the ethics commission’s executive director, compared the function of an initiating order to that of a lawsuit.

It’s the first public document opening a case, where the ethics commission charges a current or former public official with violating the ethics code and explains exactly what they’re alleged to have done, she said.

The pair could be subject to as much as $5,000 in fines and public reprimand. They also have the right to subpoena witnesses on their own behalf and to appeal any final commission order in Franklin Circuit Court.

In early 2019, the Herald-Leader and ProPublica published a three-part series on Grimes’ conduct as secretary of state. It first reported Grimes’ improper use of the Voter Registration System; the series also showed how Grimes gained unprecedented authority over the State Board of Elections, resulting in her ability to push through a no-bid contract with a company owned by a political donor and delay action on a consent decree mandating that she clean the state’s voter rolls.

Grimes was twice elected to her post as secretary of state, first in 2011 then 2015. She left office in 2019 due to term limits. She was seen as a rising star in the state party when she ran against Mitch McConnell for senate in 2014, losing by more than 15 percentage points.

By the end of this month, Grimes’ father Jerry Lundergan will report to federal prison, following a 2019 conviction for funneling more than $200,000 in illegal contributions to Grimes’ senate campaign and conspiring to cover it up.

Grimes’ former office is now occupied by Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams.

Reporter John Cheves contributed to this report.

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