Post updated to reflect additional money paid to Benton.
When Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton abruptly resigned in late August amidst revelations of apparent ties to an Iowa bribery scandal, the campaign assured reporters that Benton had not been very involved with the campaign since that May’s primary. However, according to new a FEC filing, Benton was paid nearly $100,000 by McConnell’s committees in a two-month period this summer, including a payment the day before his resignation and several days afterward. Additionally, over this same period, Benton was paid more than three times that of Josh Holmes, who was supposedly the top official of the McConnell campaign during this time.
Benton was paid $46,197 by McConnell’s campaign and $5,000 by his Bluegrass Committee on July 1, well after the May 20 primary, and another $15,000 on Aug. 4. On Aug. 28, a day after the scandal broke that detailed Benton’s involvement and one day before his resignation, McConnell’s campaign paid him an additional $11,100. On Sept. 2, the McConnell campaign paid Benton $10,000, and the next day McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee paid Benton another $5,000. During this same period, Holmes was paid $30,000. Additionally, the Republican Party of Kentucky paid Benton $15,000 in July and early August, and $5,000 on the day he resigned. Altogether, these committees paid him $112,297 over the two-month period.
After news broke of Benton’s possible ties to the bribery of Iowa state Sen. Ken Sorenson during Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign for which he worked, McConnell’s campaign initially told Politico Benton’s role was limited since before the May primary, and that “The truth is that Josh Holmes has been doing the top job on McConnell’s campaign since April.” The Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth at the time reported that Holmes was said to have run the campaign even prior to April.
In a story by the Washington Examiner the week after Benton’s resignation, their sources in the campaign went a step further, saying Benton’s work for McConnell “was already done” after the May primary.
Insider Louisville asked the McConnell campaign why Benton was paid this summer if his work was diminished — if not entirely done — but did not receive an immediate answer.
Benton’s total payment by the McConnell campaign, his committees and the Republican Party of Kentucky for his work was nearly $560,000, a staggering amount for any campaign manager. For comparison’s sake, that approaches double the amount Mitt Romney’s and Barack Obama’s campaign managers were paid in the 2012 election, combined.
When news broke on Monday that McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee paid Benton $5,000 after his resignation, Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign made a bold accusation, questioning whether that payment was “hush money.”
Grimes’ deputy press secretary Sam Chiron provided Insider Louisville with the following statement: “We now know why Mitch McConnell has repeatedly stonewalled every single media question about his knowledge of the federal bribery scandal surrounding his former campaign chief. What we don’t know — and what Kentucky voters deserve an immediate explanation and account of — is why Mitch paid Jesse Benton more than $100,000 from his campaign and his leadership PAC when he was no longer running the campaign and they’d allegedly ‘moved on.’ What else could this possibly be besides hush money or a corrupt political payoff?”