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FEC can't help Kentucky GOP because of ... Kentucky’s McConnell

Radio host Matt Jones and Blackjewel Coal miner Chris Rowe

Kentucky Republicans want the FEC to investigate radio host Matt Jones (seated, interviewing unemployed coal miner Chris Rowe), but the commission has too few members to operate.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Kentucky Republican Party is alleging campaign finance wrongdoing by a radio host considering a longshot bid for Mitch McConnell's Senate seat. But the complaint won't ever get answered without the help of the Senate majority leader himself.

That's because the case has been filed with the Federal Election Commission, which is now into its third month without the minimum membership necessary to begin even the most routine enforcement proceedings. And the reason for that is Kentucky's own McConnell. In his view the FEC that regulates best is the one that regulates least, and so he's bottled up the nomination that would give the agency a four-person quorum.

The agency has been at a policymaking standstill since the beginning of September, when Republican commissioner Matthew Petersen resigned leaving just three of his colleagues behind.

At the start of November, the FEC had a backlog of more than 300 enforcement matters, 90 of them awaiting decisions by the commissioners.

President Trump two years ago nominated Texas attorney Trey Trainor, a Republican, but the Senate has not so much as held a hearing on him. And, since all three remaining commissioners are serving past the expiration of their terms, which the law allows, some in the GOP say the time is ripe for Trump to put forward an entire slate of six. By law no more than three could be from his party.

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Democrats say that, as an interim step, they would be content to seat one new commissioner from each side so that enforcement could get started along with the real ramp-up in 2020 presidential and congressional campaign fundraising activities.

The complaint filed Wednesday alleges that popular liberal sports radio host Matt Jones is improperly receiving corporate contributions in the form of free air time from iHeartRadio, the distributor of his sports talk show, and Simon & Schuster, the publisher of his upcoming book about McConnell.

While the FEC is powerless to act, one of the nation's biggest radio networks is not, and on Thursday iHeartRadio took Jones off the air until he decides whether to run.

Jones has not yet officially filed papers declaring his run next year. But he did launch an exploratory committee in September and his most recent FEC filing (the agency is still allowed to accept those) says the committee's only income has been a $9,702 loan from the prospective candidate.

If Jones gets in the race he would face tough competition for the Democratic nomination from Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot and unsuccessful 2018 House candidate who has already raised $10 million.

Jones' book deal has been a thorn in the Republican Party's side as well. To promote the book (tentatively titled "Mitch, Please!") he plans to travel to all 120 counties in Kentucky to detail how, in his mind, McConnell has had a negative impact on the state throughout his 30-year Senate tenure. The complaint says this book tour is "inextricably linked" to Jones' political campaign.

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