Last Wednesday night, Kentucky Sports Radio fans celebrated a UK men’s basketball win against No. 1 ranked Michigan State as they listened to Matt Jones host his weekday radio talk show. But, Thursday morning, Jones’ voice was strangely absent from the show.
He had been asked to leave KSR due to a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission by the Republican Party of Kentucky. RPK claimed that Jones, who had teased a possible run for Senate in 2020, had taken and failed to report illegal campaign contributions from his corporate sponsor, iHeartRadio, and book publisher, Simon & Schuster.
Jones said that while he did form an exploratory committee and travel around the state to gauge interest in a possible candidacy, he “never used the radio show or the book to raise money” for his campaign. In fact, in a Twitter video that is no longer available, Jones said that before the FEC complaint was filed on Wednesday, he had planned to announce he was no longer considering a Senate run on KSR Thursday morning.
Individuals considering a campaign are allowed to “test the waters” first without establishing their candidacy, according to official FEC rules. But they cannot raise more than $5,000 or accept donations from corporate sponsors to be used for their campaign before they announce they are officially running for office.
In my opinion, whether Jones broke the rules or not, filing a FEC complaint against him is a bad move for Mitch McConnell in his bid for reelection.
First of all, it gives the impression that McConnell feels threatened by Jones as competition. Whether intended or not, McConnell just told Jones that if he ran, he would have a chance. That’s dangerous in the world of politics.
Second, it’s hypocritical. According to one of Jones’ Tweets, when Amy McGrath's campaign allegedly got Jones kicked off of the “Hey, Kentucky” segment of WLEX after he announced his book deal, the McConnell administration condemned her for censorship of free speech. Constituents are less likely to trust those who they see as hypocritical, and therefore may be less likely to vote them into office.
Perhaps most importantly, McConnell showed that he has little to no understanding of the power of the BBN to bridge partisan gaps. According to Jones, 75 percent of his listeners are conservative Republicans.
And they are angry.
If McConnell understood his constituents, he would have never risked alienating his traditionally Republican rural Kentucky base, even if he does think Jones broke the law. McConnell was a shoe-in; they were never going to vote for McGrath.
But now that it appears as if McConnell silenced a favorite sports radio host, a Democrat may gain a few more votes in 2020. While I don’t believe it will be nearly enough to kick McConnell out of office, I do believe it will make his margins smaller.
Lastly, the filing of the complaint makes no sense, since the FEC needs four members to enforce any ruling they make. They currently have three out of the normal six members, and McConnell has not shown an interest in appointing new members.
This makes the complaint seem like a PR stunt intended to defile Jones’ name and reputation among his potential supporters. If that was the intention, it majorly backfired.
If there’s one thing McConnell should learn from this situation, it’s to never underestimate the power—and in this case, anger—of the Big Blue Nation. After all, this is the fan base that burns coaches when it gets mad.
If Jones did break FEC rules, I don’t believe that was his intention. Either way, I don’t think many UK fans will care. They have no tolerance for bullies who mess with the BBN and McConnell just earned himself a spot at the top of that list.