- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The biggest spenders in Kentucky’s competitive race for governor are a pair of Louisville millionaires who want to see a Republican elected as the state’s chief executive.

But it’s not what you think.

Hal Heiner and Matt Bevin are not shadowy kingmakers, but political candidates who use their own money to fuel their campaigns rather than rely on traditional fundraising. To be sure, outside groups still played a significant role in Kentucky’s Republican primary and continue to have an impact in the general election. But their spending is surpassed by the nearly $3.5 million combined from Bevin and Heiner, according to an analysis of ad spending by the Center for Public Integrity.

Heiner is still the top spender just one month before the election with more than $2.3 million, despite disappearing from public life after finishing third in May’s Republican primary. Democratic nominee Jack Conway, who launched an aggressive TV campaign over the summer, is second with about $1.7 million. And Bevin is third with just over $1.1 million.

Both Heiner and Bevin have relied heavily on their own money: Heiner loaned his campaign $4 million last summer, and Bevin gave himself more than $1 million during the Republican primary.

“We have campaign finance laws in the state that limit middle-class candidates like myself to getting a $1,000 contribution from an individual, but wealthy people like Hal Heiner and Matt Bevin can put millions of dollars into campaigns,” said James Comer, who finished second in Kentucky’s Republican primary for governor by 83 votes despite bringing in more than $2 million from traditional fundraising. “It’s going to be a multimillionaire’s game.”

It’s unclear how much money Bevin has now. The next fundraising reports are not due until Tuesday. But since the primary ended, Bevin has had several high-profile fundraisers that have included GOP mega donors Joe Craft and Kelly Knight and powerful politicians like Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican majority leader, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

The dollar figures on TV ads come from data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity. The data was gathered by Kantar Media/CMAG, a media tracking firm that monitors 211 markets around the country and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot. The data covers ads between Jan. 1, 2014, and Sept. 28, 2015. The data does not include money spent on ads for radio, online or direct mail, nor TV ads that aired on local cable systems. And the estimates do not include the cost of making the ads.

The data show that $9.8 million has been spent so far on TV ads, more than any other state, with nearly all of it spent in the governor’s race. But total ad spending could be even higher, with the Republican Governors Association saying it has spent $3 million in Kentucky and disclosure reports showing Heiner spent at least $3.2 million on ads.

Bevin’s campaign said Wednesday it had purchased $1.083 million worth of statewide ad time for the next month Dish Network, DirecTV and Fox News. Bevin said the money comes from a mix of campaign contributions and his personal wealth. The Republican Governors Association stopped airing TV ads on Monday.

“I’ve always put my own skin in the game,” Bevin said. “There is not one person in the state who has been promised anything by me, not one appointment that has been expected, not one interest group that expects to be paid back.”

Heiner declined comment. But Doug Alexander, Heiner’s former communications director, said Comer - the state agriculture commissioner- had an enormous advantage as an incumbent, statewide elected official.

“Sometimes the only option they have is self-funding because the money tends to go to incumbents, and it is very difficult for someone without a history in politics (to raise money),” he said. “You can make the argument both ways.”

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