A super PAC supporting Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell is taking advantage of Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes' tour bus controversy by asking if it can use the vehicle for a similar price.
Kentuckians for Strong Leadership sent a letter Thursday to Signature Special Events Services seeking to rent the 45-foot-long bus adorned with Grimes’ photo and logo for $456 per day.
Grimes' father, Democratic power broker Jerry Lundergan, owns the company and the story has raised question of a possible federal campaign finance violation.
"I'd love to rent the bus when it is available. I know you have another client who uses it from time to time; I really only need it on the days when your other client doesn’t need it,” wrote Republican strategist Scott Jennings, who runs the super PAC.
"I also read that the bus has a wrap on it specific to your other client. That is not a problem, either; I actually have need for such a wrap myself. It’s a win-win for your business."
Lundergan bought the bus for about $300,000 last summer as his daughter was gearing up to take on McConnell. The Grimes campaign said it rented the vehicle at a fair market value, but some bus companies have called their rate a "sweetheart deal" for a bus wrapped with her likeness.
The controversy ballooned Thursday when Grimes' team reportedly offered conflicting accounts of the bus' cost to Kentucky reporters compared to national media outlets.
To buttress their argument, campaign officials have told several Kentucky media outlets that its daily rental costs of $456 do not include the price of fuel.
But that argument directly contradicts what they told POLITICO in an Aug. 8 e-mail and what Federal Election Commission reports show.
In that email, the Grimes campaign broke down all of its expenditures for the bus, saying its payments were for "bus rental + fuel costs." And that included two payments made on June 30 to Signature Special Event Services (Lundergan's company) for $5,334 and $1,145, which were listed in the FEC filings for "transportation, fuel." (Take a look for yourself on p. 3,450 of its July 15 quarterly report.) Those costs were included in the $10,939 total.
Speaking to reporters Thursday at the 51st annual Kentucky Farm Bureau Ham Breakfast, Grimes dodged questions of whether her team misled reporters. Instead, she said the story was a distraction.
"These are baseless, unfounded, bullying accusations from the McConnell campaign, just an attempt to try to divert attention away from serious questions that Kentuckians have about Mitch McConnell's family profiting off the loss of coal jobs," she said.
Meanwhile, Jennings in his letter seized on the controversy.
"We have been calling around to other bus companies but the published rates you offer are extremely competitive," he said. "(I)n fact, I'd be surprised if any other bus companies are still in business this time next year after folks learn about your pricing. So, congrats on your future success! The sweetheart deals you offer clients are clearly second-to-none. It's almost like you treat your clients like family!"