Request for Opinion from Kentucky's Attorney General

Why are newspapers and broadcast companies exempt from Kentucky election laws that set spending limit and reporting requirements for political speech by citizens and grassroots organizations?

Rosemarie Center, an attorney with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance could not cite KRS statute(s) differentiating corporate Vs individual freedom of the press. Rob Williams, Assistant Reviser of Statutes with the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, also knew of no such statute(s). This is consistent with the freedom listed below and not amended, as it is found in the inviolable section of the Kentucky Bill of Rights:

Kentucky Constitution, Section 8

Freedom of speech and of the press.


Printing presses shall be free to every person who undertakes to examine the proceedings of the General Assembly or any branch of government, and no law shall ever be made to restrain the right thereof. Every person may freely and fully speak, write and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.
Text as Ratified on: August 3, 1891, and revised September 28, 1891.
History: Not yet amended.

Until the "corporate press" exemption is addressed, the ombudsman at the newspaper office acts as the gatekeeper of free political speech. If the newspaper prints your political comments about an issue or candidate, your advocacy may reach a circulation of hundreds of thousands and you enjoy the same exemption from campaign finance spending limits and reporting requirements as the Lexington Herald Leader or Louisville's Courier-Journal. 

If the newspaper rejects your article and you decide to deliver your message door to door via handbills, you need to visit the State Board of Election Finance Registry and familiarize yourself with terms like: political action committee (PAC), independent Vs in-Kind donations, issue Vs express advocacy, spending limits, reporting intervals and coordination with a candidates campaign. If that isn't daunting enough to discourage you from participating, remember failure to comply with Campaign Finance Laws is punishable as a Class D felony.

As subscribers to a newspaper we expect columnists to interview a candidate prior to publishing an editorial about them, their candidacy or their platforms. But if a citizen or grassroots organization interviews a candidate before publishing and distributing handbills promoting that candidate, they have committed "coordination" and the total cost of their publication is limited to: (An in-kind contribution, when combined with all other contributions from the same individual, is limited to $1,000 per candidate, per election.) {KRS 121.150(6); KRS 121A.050(1) and AO 95-012}. At 2 cents a copy per single sided 8 1/2 X 11 handbill, an individual or grassroots organization would reach its campaign spending limit at 50,000 or a small fraction of the daily circulation of many newspapers.

A newspaper may endorse a candidate and reprint daily or at it's whim a candidates platform or speech to it's circulation, but an individual or grassroots organization doing so is limited to a campaign total in-kind donation of $1000.