POLITICS: PennAve

In Kentucky senate race, brewing clash over sexual harassment

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Politics,Betsy Woodruff,Mitch McConnell,Kentucky,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Alison Lundergan Grimes,Sexual Harassment

The leading Kentucky Senate candidates have spent much of the last few days in a metastasizing conflict over a contentious sexual harassment case.

Kentucky Republicans charge the case shows that Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the presumptive Democratic nominee, puts her “good ol' boys” alliances ahead of sexual harassment victims. Grimes, who could battle Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this fall and has made women's issues a cornerstone of her campaign, has refuted the accusation and says Republicans are wrongly politicizing the case.

At hand is the situation of former state Rep. John Arnold, who left office last September amid allegations of sexual harassment from three female state house staffers. Earlier this week, the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission fell one vote short of reprimanding the former representative. The commission needed five votes to punish Arnold. Only five of the nine-member commission were present at the vote, as three were on vacation and one seat is vacant.

Of the five members present, four voted against Arnold. The member who singlehandedly blocked his punishment, Democratic attorney Elmer George, has given $5,200 to Grimes.

And Arnold gave her campaign $250. Neither Grimes, who launched her candidacy last summer, nor McConnell publicly called for Arnold’s resignation, and neither has publicly criticized George for his vote, though Grimes has said the commission disappointed her.

And Kentucky political blog Page One reported that George's son has worked for Grimes' campaign, citing FEC filings from December. One of Grimes' prominent supporters, Democrat House Speaker Greg Stumbo, appointed George to the commission.

A Grimes source confirmed for the Washington Examiner that George's son works for Grimes' campaign and added that his employment there has no effect on her position on the matter.

McConnell’s campaign released a statement on Wednesday with sharp criticism of Grimes, charging that instead of returning donations, she “opted to protect the old boys' club backing her campaign and send her sterile condolences via press release.”

Kentucky Republicans have also attacked Grimes for her connections to the case.

“Alison Lundergan Grimes is so closely allied with the good ol' boys club in Frankfort that she was willing to sacrifice her 'champion for women' theme that was the centerpiece of her campaign,” said Kelsey Cooper, a spokesman for the Kentucky GOP. “Grimes chose to remain silent in order to protect her political mentors, who appointed a maxed-out donor and father to one of her staff members to be the deciding vote to clear John Arnold of his sexual harassment charges.”

Grimes’ campaign fired back, charging that McConnell and his supporters “attempted to use sexual harassment victims’ experiences as a political football before knowing all of the facts, and their attacks have backfired.” The campaign also said that Grimes spoke with two of the staffers who had accused Arnold, and that they told her to keep the campaign contributions and to “fight.”

They also said, per the statement, “We don’t want to be pawns in the political game.”

And on Friday, Grimes' campaign went after McConnell again.

"This is clearly Mitch McConnell campaign and his allies attempting to distract from his failed record of fighting for Kentucky women," said Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton. "It is deplorable that McConnell's campaign is exploiting these victims' degrading and humiliating experiences for his own political gain."

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