MATT JONES - 8-29-19 1.jpg

Matt Jones announced plans on Aug. 29, 2019 to form an exploratory committee to help decide if he'll enter the 2020 US Senate race in Kentucky. 

 
 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The state Republican Party has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones, claiming Jones has committed "serious violations" by improperly receiving corporate funding for a potential Senate run.

The complaint alleges Jones is using his popular radio show "as a campaign commercial" to discuss his possible 2020 run for the seat held by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, essentially giving him free advertising paid for by the show's sponsor, iHeartMedia.

In addition, Jones is speaking with voters while touring the state promoting a book he is writing about McConnell, while using funding from Simon & Schuster, according to the complaint. 

Jones, a Democrat, is accused of violating FEC regulations that prohibit campaigns from accepting corporate donations. The complaint wants an investigation into Jones, an affiliated committee and its treasurer, as well as iHeartMedia and Simon & Schuster.

"Matt Jones must be held accountable immediately for misusing multiple platforms paid for by his corporate sponsors to unlawfully promote his U.S. Senate candidacy," said RPK Chairman J. McCauley Brown in a press release.  "RPK's complaint is an important first step in stopping Jones' flagrant failure to comply with federal regulations and we urge the FEC to deliver a swift and strong penalty."

Among the central issues is whether Jones is using a campaign committee, as the Republican Party complaint alleges. In August he formed an exploratory committee and told reporters he was seriously considering taking on McConnell.

The complaint urges the FCC to conduct an investigation and possible criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice, accusing Jones of trying to conceal violations by "failing to disclose reportable contributions and expenditures related to his campaign radio show and campaign tour" across Kentucky.

In a tweet, Jones said "Mitch McConnell is trying to get KSR taken off the air immediately with this complaint. It's nonsense and I am not even a candidate at this time for office."

Jones posted on his website Wednesday evening that iHeartMedia decided to pull him from his radio show and that he won't be on "in the near future."

He posted in more detail on his website:

Nice to be on the blog again, although unfortunately it is for this reason. Due to the Mitch McConnell complaint filed this morning with the FEC against me, iHeart Radio has asked that I not be on the show in the upcoming days. The complaint is absolute nonsense and very disappointing from someone as powerful as McConnell. I have said repeatedly in public and in filings with the FEC that I am not yet a candidate and I haven’t used the show to raise money or talk about my Exploratory Committee in any way. Nevertheless Senator McConnell has complained that having me on air is unfair and the man who speaks often about the importance of free speech and the exchange of public ideas has decided to cut off mine.

I understand iHeart Radio’s decision and don’t blame them. Since I will be making a decision on whether to run very soon, fighting this battle with the Senate Majority leader doesn’t make sense. I get it and still value my relationship with them. If I choose in the coming days not to run, I hope to extend my deal with iHeart Radio and continue KSR into the future.

For the time being however, I won’t be on the show. I had hoped to do the show for a couple more weeks, make my decision and then take time off to finish my book and regroup after a long process. Thanks to Senator McConnell that time will apparently start now. One would think that a man who has at his disposal all the media outlets in America, an unending supply of corporate donations and all the platforms a person could ever need would not be frightened of a sports radio show in Kentucky. Alas, I guess that is not correct. I am disappointed but still love KSR and know that my co-hosts will keep it entertaining for everyone.

Until the next time, Go Cats!

In August he said McConnell "is a huge detriment to Kentucky, and a huge detriment to America."

Two other Democrats already have entered the race: former Marine combat aviator Amy McGrath and political newcomer Mike Broihier. The winner of next May's primary would likely face McConnell in November 2020, as he runs for a seventh term.  

The complaint, first reported by The Hill, claims Jones created Kentucky Sports Radio to talk about University of Kentucky basketball, but that he now uses it as a "platform" for his Senate run. 

"The show's content and format has changed now that Mr. Jones is a candidate," according to the complaint. "In short, KSR is acting 'in a manner atypical of a press entity."

And since he owns KSR, the complaint alleges Jones is not entitled to a "media exemption" and that he has failed to report expenditures related to both the show and book tour. 

"In stark contrast to Jones' candor about Amy McGrath's authenticity problems, his attempts to conceal these violations from both the FEC and the public only heighten their severity," Brown said. 

Forming an exploratory committee allows Jones to raise money to cover costs of research and polling for a potential run, but he cannot actually campaign. 

Jones was released from his job as host of "Hey, Kentucky" at WLEX in Lexington in August. The station said the decision was over Jones' possible run for U.S. Senate and his release of a book titled "Mitch, Please."

At the time, Jones said he would not be taken off the radio, but has been asked by management not to advocate for a potential run. 

After hearing about the complaint, Jones tweeted, "I got the Mitch McConnell complaint trying to kick KSR off the air during a commercial break. The next caller is deployed overseas in Afghanistan, and called from Kabul to thank us for the show helping him stay close to home. That's what Mitch and company want to take off the air."

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Digital Reporter

Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason can be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.