Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones is leaving his radio show for the "near future" after the Republican Party of Kentucky filed a complaint Wednesday with the Federal Elections Commission claiming Jones received illegal campaign contributions from his employers and failed to properly disclose them.
In an 18 page complaint, party chairman Mac Brown alleged that Jones is an official candidate for U.S. Senate because Jones filed paperwork with the FEC to form an exploratory committee and has reported raising and spending around $9,700 so far.
See Jones/Page B3
According to Brown, that means Jones has wrongly been given a platform to promote his campaign by iHeartMedia, which syndicates his radio show, and book publisher Simon and Schuster. Jones has a deal with Simon and Schuster to write a book about U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called "Mitch Please."
Brown also accused Jones of failing to properly report the contributions.
"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," Brown said. "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."
In a post on the Kentucky Sports Radio website, Jones wrote Wednesday evening that iHeartRadio asked him to not be on the show in the upcoming days.
"The complaint is absolute nonsense and very disappointing from someone as powerful as McConnell," Jones wrote. "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."
Jones, a Democrat, said he understood iHeartRadio's decision and didn't blame them. He did, however, blame McConnell even though the complaint came from the Republican Party.
"If the McConnell people did not want them to do it, they wouldn't have done it," Jones told the Herald-Leader earlier Wednesday.
McConnell's campaign manager, Kevin Golden, said the campaign doesn't care if Jones is on the radio.
"Team Mitch has absolutely no concern about Matt's show," Golden said. "It appears that his business relationships are concerned with his ability to comply with federal law."
The complaint said Kentucky Sports Radio is "largely a campaign commercial for Mr. Jones" and said because Jones has not written his book yet, "the only conceivable purpose" of his tour of Kentucky's 120 counties to talk to people about McConnell "is to influence the outcome of the election."
Jones said there have been no illegal contributions because he isn't a candidate -- he's just exploring a candidacy. If Jones is not a "legally qualified candidate," then federal rules requiring media entities to provide equal opportunities to all candidates don't apply to him, according to the Communications Act of 1934.
"I think the night after Kentucky takes down the number one team in the country, that they would try to take down the state's largest sports show, shows how out of touch Mitch McConnell is," Jones said.
Jones has been publicly mulling for months a potential campaign to run against McConnell in 2020. On Wednesday, he said that decision will "happen very soon." In his blog post, Jones said he had planned to stay on the show until making his announcement, then "take time off to finish my book and regroup after a long process."
The Republican party's complaint comes a day after Gov. Matt Bevin lost his reelection bid to Democrat Andy Beshear, causing national speculation that McConnell could be vulnerable heading into his 2020 race.
Jones has been very clear that he thinks it will be difficult to beat McConnell in 2020, but he said Tuesday's results highlight a path a Democrat could take to beat one of the most powerful men in Washington D.C.
"McConnell folks are saying the Bevin loss has nothing to do with them," Jones said. "Fair enough. So why would you do this the next day?"
In particular, Jones pointed to the fact that McConnell in unpopular through much of the state. A Morning Consult Poll released in October found that just 37 percent of Kentuckians approve of McConnell.
"I think it's still a Republican state," Jones said. "I think it's a state that loves Trump. But I think last night proved that they're willing to look beyond party."
Earlier this year, Jones was removed from his television show on LEX18 because he was considering a campaign for Senate and because of his book deal. Former Marine Corps pilot Amy McGrath's campaign, not McConnell, first raised the issue with LEX18, which got him temporarily removed from the air in July. Jones was then permanently removed after his book deal was announced.