Call it a tale of two Marksberrys.
The Democrat-turned-independent candidate for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat dropped a bombshell this week when he accused his former party—and by extension, likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign—of offering him money and incentives to drop out of the race.
In a 15-page letter posted on Page One Kentucky, Marksberry claims an unnamed person close to Grimes’s father, Democratic Party power player Jerry Lundergan, approached him about dropping out of the race.
The missive alleges party officials told Marksberry favors, such as a job and money, would be owed to him if Grimes defeated Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell this year. Marksberry wrote that the offers made by Grimes’ advisers and state Democratic Party leaders made him feel like a "cheap prostitute."
But this is the first of many different takes on the story Marksberry has offered to the Kentucky media.
Rumors that Marksberry had been offered incentives to leave the race had been circulating for some time. I asked him in September if he had been offered anything in exchange for dropping out of the race as a Democrat.
At the time Marksberry denied such, but this week he told The Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth he lied to WFPL about not being offered incentives.
Marskberry admitted this lie to WFPL on Dec. 6, when he called the newsroom to apologize for misleading us about a possible bribe three months earlier. He said he was trying to protect someone, but he was coming forward because he believed the Kentucky Democratic Party was accusing him of working for McConnell in order to hurt Grimes in the general election.
"In light of everything that’s being said about me with the Kentucky Democratic Party leaders, I hear they’re trying to assassinate my character by telling everybody I’m a plant for Mitch McConnell," said Marksberry, an Owensboro contractor.
Marksberry said he and a "party leader" had been in talks about him leaving the race for weeks. Then, as now, Marksberry declined to say if this was a KDP official or a local party leader.
Still, citing the letter, the Lexington Herald-Leader’s report on Tuesday said Marksberry’s allegations point directly at the Grimes campaign.
Asked if any overtures were made by the Grimes campaign a month ago, however, Marksberry said no one associated with the her Senate election team was involved.
Marksberry also told WFPL he started the conversation about a reward for dropping out.
When Grimes announced she was running, Marksberry reached out to her senior campaign adviser, Jonathan Hurst, about what he’d like to see done if he stepped down. Hurst has also confirmed this conversation with WFPL.
At the time, Marksberry was urging Grimes to be more progressive on the campaign trail and was disappointed in her stances, or lack thereof. Part of Marksberry’s initial plan was to pressure Grimes into taking a more liberal stance on several issues.
"I contacted them about some ideals," he said.
Marksberry said that was his only conversation with Hurst, but added it wasn't long after that when the anonymous party leader contacted him about dropping out.
In his letter to Page One, however, Marksberry says there were many conversations with Hurst before a deal was eventually reached.
When incentives eventually came up, Marksberry told WFPL they weren’t for himself as much as for his small campaign staff. He also admitted the idea of money or a job to leave the campaign was his initial idea.
"And to be honest with you, I tried to make a deal and part of the deal was the possibility of some money in some form or another. And the other was a job, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the job was for me," said Marksberry.
"There has been some talks between us and you can say I initiated them."
In a follow-up interview with WFPL on Dec. 7, however, significant parts of Marksberry’s story had changed.
Among the facts Marksberry either changed or couldn’t recall was the timeline of when he first called Hurst, what he contacted the Grimes campaign about, how many Democratic Party officials had spoken with him and whether financial incentives to leave the race were offered at all.
Given these inconsistencies, we decided not to run the story last month.
The independent candidate did make it clear that while he declined to answer additional questions, he was committed to releasing the story to Page One in part because they would allow his entire story to run rather than a handful of quotes.
"No one’s broken any laws," Marksberry said. "It’s OK for you to spread rumors. That’s what is great about the First Amendment."