TIME Campaign Finance

If Campaign Ads Told the Truth, They Would Sound Like This

Meet "Honest Gil", a satirical candidate in Kentucky's senate race

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Ever wonder what politicians would say if they had to always speak the unvarnished truth?

Meet Gil Fulbright, (Or Phil Gulbright. Or Bill Fulbright. Or Phillip Mimouf-Wifarts. You’ll understand once you’ve watched the ad).

“Honest Gil” is a satirical candidate for the U.S. Senate in the Kentucky race between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Gil plans to rent a campaign bus, take out billboard and TV ads and show up at campaign events in order to make a spectacle of what is poised to be the most expensive Senate election in American history.

Fulbright will be the face of Represent.Us, a non-partisan movement claiming 450,000 supporters that wants to pass campaign finance and anti-corruption laws to limit the influence of money on Washington. With 26 days left in its Indiegogo campaign to raise money for Fulbright’s shenanigans, the group has already busted through its fundraising goal of $20,000.

The effort is reminiscent of the Mayday PAC, Lawrence Lessig’s new crowd-funded cannibal Super PAC to destroy all Super PACs.

Whatever your position on campaign finance, Fulbright’s commercial is at the very least a funny/tragically spot-on commentary on the state of political discourse in the U.S.

TIME

Judge Strikes Down Kentucky’s Gay Marriage Ban

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge in Kentucky has struck down the state’s ban on same-sex couples getting licenses and marrying in the state.

However, Tuesday’s ruling was temporarily put on hold because it will be appealed, meaning it is not yet clear when same-sex couples could be issued marriage licenses.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn in Louisville concluded in Tuesday’s ruling that the state’s prohibition on same-sex couples being wed violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating gay couples differently than straight couples.

Heyburn previously struck down Kentucky’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages from other states and countries, but put the implementation of that ruling on hold. That decision did not deal with whether Kentucky would have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

TIME Kentucky

50,000 Homes Lose Power in Kentucky During Severe Thunderstorms

Residents have been advised to seek shelter and stay away from windows

Thunderstorms that are wreaking havoc throughout the central and eastern part of Kentucky have caused 50,000 homes to lose power, energy companies report.

The National Weather Service issued a severe-thunderstorm warning on Wednesday that is anticipated to last until Thursday. Local media report winds gusting at 70 m.p.h., striking down power lines and trees. Residents have been instructed to seek shelter and stay away from windows to avoid the strong winds and quarter-sized hail.

The Kentucky Weather Center also warned of potential “local high water issues” on Tuesday following heavy rainfall.

No injuries have been reported at this time.

TIME Bizarre

A Sinkhole Swallowed Cars at The Corvette Museum And Now Everyone Wants To Go

Corvette Museum Sinkhole
A view of a sinkhole that opened up in the Skydome showroom, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. Michael Noble Jr.—AP

So much for fear of the earth crumbling

As a concept, sinkholes are terrifying—the solidity of the earth beneath your feet suddenly is in question. In February, a 40 ft. by 60 ft. one opened up under the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky and swallowed a roomful of classic cars. Luckily, nobody was hurt and only one or two cars were severely damaged, though it took eight weeks for the museum to find and extract the cars.

The upside? Tourism is booming. Between February and May, Quartz reports, visits increased by 50%. The museum plans to keep the sinkhole open for viewing through the summer, including during its 20th anniversary celebration in August.

TIME States

Kentucky Residents Sue Distilleries Over Whiskey Fungus

In the French Cognac region, locals call it the "black velvet." In Kentucky, the fungus stands at the heart of a heated lawsuit

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Kentucky is usually famous for its racehorses and its legendary bourbon. But soon, it might be also known for a black fungus, which thrives in ethanol-rich environments and grows on exterior surfaces that are exposed to direct sunlight.

“When it evaporates, it wafts into the community, into the neighbors backyards, invisible, odorless,” said William McMurry, a lawyer from Louisville, Kentucky. Nearby, houses, road signs, wood fences—anything left outside for long enough—is veiled in the black growth.

Locals recently brought a class action lawsuit against distilleries to get them to control their ethanol output, AFP reports.

In 2007, researchers published a study about Baudoinia, a newly identified type of fungus, which needs water and alcohol to grow. The first stems from humidity in the air, while the second comes from the ethanol that evaporates as the bourbon matures in its oak barrels, making the area around whiskey-aging warehouses a prime breeding ground.

But the fungus is not a phenomenon unique to Kentucky. On the other side of the Atlantic—in Scotland and in France’s Cognac region—this evaporation is known as the “angels’ share.” In California, wine makers have put systems in place to capture excess ethanol.

The distilleries reject the scientific arguments implicating them. But McMurry hopes to convince them to install ethanol capture systems, similar to the ones adopted in California.

“If they’re not a good neighbor, they need to be made responsible, personally accountable like the rest of us businesses,” McMurry said.

TIME 2014 Election

How Mitch McConnell Conquered the Kentucky Tea Party

Mitch McConnell
Mitch McConnell speaks to a gathering of supporters Saturday, May 17, 2014, at the Tanglewood Farms Restaurant in Franklin, Ky. Timothy D. Easley--AP

Polls show Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a commanding lead over Matt Bevin, his most serious competitor in his last five re-election campaigns, a day before the Kentucky primary election. Now the real fight for his seat begins

It is a testament to Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell’s dogged preparedness that he is poised to blow out his primary in Kentucky on Tuesday.

McConnell’s victory was not always as much of a sure thing. Businessman Matt Bevin was the first serious primary challenger McConnell has drawn in five reelection campaigns. Bevin raised $3.7 million, nearly $1 million of it in his own money, enough to buy a healthy amount of broadcast advertising in the Bluegrass State and to fund a plane to crisscross Kentucky in the final days of campaigning.

But the Tea Party darling never really gained traction, consistently trailing McConnell in the polls by more than 25 percentage points. This was partly due to McConnell’s careful trek right on key positions, the hiring of Rand Paul’s campaign manager Jesse Benton to court the Tea Party crowd and the methodical opposition research on Bevin and his allies.

“Bevin was not to be taken lightly as a Tea Party primary foe, and McConnell didn’t,” says Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “After nearly 30 years in the Senate, McConnell has built up critics even among some GOP base voters in Kentucky, and his favorability ratings are just so-so. But his aggressive, full-on campaign, combined with Bevin’s inexperience and errors, should deliver a strong primary result for the incumbent.”

McConnell effectively painted Bevin as a flip flopper who once supported bank bailouts and lied about his resume. (Bevin once claimed on his LinkedIn page to have graduated from MIT but the school denied he was ever enrolled). McConnell also targeted outside groups that had the audacity to support Bevin, making it clear those groups would have a hard time finding work in Washington and in other races should they continue to support rifts within the Republican Party. “Some Washington- and Los Angeles-based groups have spent millions in total propping up a candidate who it appears had little actual grassroots momentum in Kentucky,” says Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Senatorial Campaign Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate.

Indeed, McConnell spent more than $12 million on his primary not so much to beat Bevin, but to unite his fractured party both nationally and in Kentucky and to test-drive his campaign apparatus ahead of what will be a bruising general election. McConnell enters the general election essentially tied in polls with his likely Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a 35-year-old relative political ingénue who makes 72-year-old McConnell look, well, old. “Over $4 million of negative ads have already been aired against Alison and she has only just gone up on the air, yet she remains popular and in a strong position with lots of room to grow,” says Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the Senate. “Alison is a great candidate and we are in a terrific position to win.”

A test-drive was a wise move given the McConnell campaign’s gaffe-filled roll out. Early on, Benton was caught on tape saying he was “holding his nose” working for McConnell. The leader also had a series of television ad flubs. Some stock footage of the senator and his wife uploaded on YouTube ended up the brunt of late night comedians. And another ad accidentally featured footage of basketball rival Duke instead of the University of Kentucky’s team.

Still, “McConnell managed to stay a step ahead of his opponent,” says Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “The primary hasn’t damaged McConnell the way Democrats hoped. In fact, it might have put him in a stronger position.” Given that this race is poised to be the most expensive in Senate history—with more than $100 million pouring into the state—McConnell is taking nothing for granted in what has become the political fight of his career.

TIME States

Young Children Are Getting Sick Working on U.S. Tobacco Farms

Tobacco farm - Warfield, VA
Tobacco farmer in Warfield, Va., on Aug. 30, 2013 Matt McClain—The Washington Post/Getty Images

A new Human Rights Watch report finds that child laborers, some as young as 7 years old, who work on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, "get so sick that they throw up, get covered by pesticides and have no real protective gear"

Children as young as 7 years old are suffering serious health problem from toiling long hours in tobacco fields to harvest pesticide-laced leaves for major cigarette brands, according to a report released Wednesday.

New York City–based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed more than 140 youngsters working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where most American tobacco is sourced.

They reported nausea, vomiting, headaches and other health problems associated with nicotine poisoning, known colloquially as green tobacco sickness, which is common among agricultural workers who absorb the toxic substance through their skin.

“The U.S. has failed America’s families by not meaningfully protecting child farmworkers from dangers to their health and safety, including on tobacco farms,” said Margaret Wurth, HRW children’s-rights researcher and co-author of the report.

“Farming is hard work anyway, but children working on tobacco farms get so sick that they throw up, get covered by pesticides and have no real protective gear.”

Much of what HRW documented remains legal. While strict provisions govern child labor in industrial environments, U.S. agriculture labor laws are much looser, allowing 12-year-olds to labor for unlimited hours outside of school on any size of farm. On small farms, there is no minimum age set for child workers.

HRW called on tobacco giants to ensure safe working practices and source responsibly. The global tobacco industry generates annual revenues of around $500 billion, but some 6 million people die each year from smoking-related diseases.

Not everyone favors stricter controls. Republican Kentucky state senator Paul Hornback says he worked in tobacco fields from when he was 10 years old and doesn’t think further legislation is necessary. “It’s hard manual labor, but there’s nothing wrong with hard manual labor,” he told the Associated Press.

TIME

The Craziest Hats of the Kentucky Derby

Forget the horses. The large, colorful and often sculptural headwear of the Kentucky Derby's attendees are where the real action's at

TIME Senate

McConnell’s Democratic Challenger Outraises Him in First Quarter

Kentucky Democratic Senate Candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes listens as Former President Bill Clinton delivers remarks during a campaign event at the Galt House Hotel on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 in Louisville, Ky.
Kentucky Democratic Senate Candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes listens as Former President Bill Clinton delivers remarks during a campaign event at the Galt House Hotel on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 in Louisville, Ky. Luke Sharrett—Getty Images

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has outpaced the Senate minority leader in fundraising for the second time — though McConnell still has over twice as much cash in the bank

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes reported raising over $2.7 million in the first quarter of 2014, beating Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s haul of $2.4 million.

McConnell is facing a primary challenger, Matt Bevin, who raised $1.2 million this cycle. McConnell has raised a total of $22.3 million this cycle, but has also had a high burn rate, spending more than $12 million already. The Senate minority leader spent nearly $3 million in the first quarter, about 120% the amount he took in.

McConnell leads Bevin by more than 30 points in polls ahead of the May 20 primary. But he trails Grimes by 0.5% in a Real Clear Politics average of Kentucky polls. “McConnell’s spent more than $12 million and he’s still behind Alison in the polls,” Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst tells TIME.

Although Grimes outraised McConnell this quarter, the Kentucky senator can still boast $10.4 million cash on hand to Grimes’ nearly $5 million.

Grimes reported more than 45,000 donors, hailing from all 50 states and all 120 Kentucky counties.

MORE: Should Mitch McConnell be on the 2014 TIME 100?

TIME Senate

McConnell’s Tea Party Opponent Raises $1.12 Million In First Quarter

Matt Bevin
U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin (R-Ky), speaks to a gathering at FreePAC Kentucky, Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Though he’s trailing the Senate minority leader by more than 30 points, Matt Bevin's influx of cash could force McConnell to spend vital funds to defend himself

Updated 4/14/14 at 3:33pm to include McConnell’s first quarter fundraising numbers.

Matt Bevin, the Tea Party candidate challenging Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, announced Monday that he raised $1.12 million from 30,000 donors in the first quarter of 2014.

“As Kentuckians learn the truth about Sen. McConnell’s record of repeatedly caving to President Obama and his long history of votes for bailouts, amnesty, and funding for Obamacare, they have rallied to our campaign,” Bevin, a businessman and first time candidate, said in a statement. “With the help of these grassroots conservatives, we will make history when we win on May 20.”

McConnell’s campaign announced Monday it raised $2.4 million in the first quarter of 2014 for a total this cycle of $22.3 million and ended the quarter with $10.4 million cash on hand in what will surely end up as one of the most expensive Senate campaigns ever waged. And despite the strong first quarter fundraising figure, Bevin still trails McConnell in polls by more than 30 points.

But Bevin’s fundraising, on the strength of endorsements from local and national Tea Party groups, shows the Tea Party is not going quietly into the night, despite—or perhaps because of— McConnell’s threat to “crush” Tea Party insurgents this cycle. Tea Party candidates who upset mainstream Republicans are widely believed to have cost the GOP the Senate majority in the 2010 and 2012 cycles.

While Bevin is unlikely to catch McConnell in the polls with 42 days left of campaigning, he can force McConnell to spend more money to defend himself in radio and television ads, money that McConnell would prefer to save for a tough general election against the likely Democratic candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The race is expected to cost more than $100 million in total. And in the end Republicans might have to make a Sophie’s Choice: If, in the final sprint, McConnell is still struggling, do they spend their money to save him, or the Senate majority? As my story on McConnell in this week’s print magazine outlines, Kentucky voters and Senate Republicans both will have to decide: how much is a leader worth?

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