When Kentucky Attorney General turned Republican gubernatorial candidate Daniel Cameron discovered that an elected state judge had accepted a campaign contribution of $250 from an attorney in a case before him last month, Cameron cited the donation as a reason that the judge had to recuse.
“These facts, individually and together, could cause a reasonable observer to question the impartiality or bias of the presiding judge,” Cameron said.
But previously unreported public records information obtained by The Daily Beast shows that Cameron was in the same position at the same time—he just never acknowledged it.
In March and April, Cameron accepted $6,900 from officials at an addiction recovery center tied to an ongoing state investigation. Despite the donations, Cameron did not recuse himself from that investigation before he attacked the judge. Instead, he waited until an open records request threatened to reveal the existence of that investigation, personally withdrawing from the case two days after the request came in.
The full timeline of events raises questions about Cameron’s conflict of interest, what he knew, and when. It will also almost certainly add fuel to bipartisan accusations that the outspoken, politically polarizing, Trump-supporting Republican has abused the power of his office during his tenure.
The company in question is Edgewater Recovery Center, a Kentucky-based addiction resource provider. According to the open records correspondence obtained by The Daily Beast, Edgewater is currently party to an investigation run by Kentucky’s Office of Medicaid Fraud and Abuse, a division of the Office of Attorney General. The Cameron donors include Edgewater’s owner, its general counsel, and directors for the recovery center’s medical, human resources, and clinical practices.
No Edgewater employee has given to Cameron previously, Kentucky campaign finance records show. And the donations appear to have come in the late stages of the investigation, which was opened sometime in 2022, according to a public records response obtained by The Daily Beast.
The donations all came in March and April, per state campaign finance records. But Cameron only recused himself from the investigation on May 19—those two days after his office received a May 17 request for a list of his recusals, and one week after his conflict-of-interest broadside against the judge. It then took another week for Cameron’s office to answer the request, which included a copy of Cameron’s notice of recusal, dated May 19. To explain the recusal, Cameron’s office cited “an abundance of caution.”
But the recusal came three days after Cameron won the GOP primary, which the donations were designated to support, according to state campaign finance filings. (The judge he’d attacked earlier that month was eventually removed, but not for the political donation—he had also “liked” a political post on Facebook in support of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.)
Additionally, records reviewed by The Daily Beast show that while Cameron recused himself from other cases in the time after receiving the Edgewater donations, he didn’t recuse from that case until the public records inquiry.
The campaign eventually returned the money from Edgewater donors on June 14, campaign finance filings show—nearly a full month after winning the primary election that the donations helped fund. But those refunds came five days after Cameron’s office received a follow-up request for more details about the probe. The OAG didn’t reply to that June 9 request until June 16—two days after the Cameron campaign issued the refunds.
According to the public records information, the Edgewater donations appear to have come late in the probe, after the OAG had already completed extensive investigative work and was contemplating punitive action.
In its response to the records request, the office claimed that the case file was exempt from public disclosure because the release might “harm an ongoing criminal investigation.” The reply also cited “information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action or administrative adjudication” and “documents prepared for or in anticipation of [criminal] litigation or a trial.”
The OAG noted that the withheld information includes witness interviews, subpoenas, correspondence with Medicare Managed Entities, financial information, and documents still under court seal.
The case number indicates that Cameron’s office opened the probe sometime in 2022. It is not immediately clear whether any Edgewater officials are targets. Edgewater did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment. Neither Cameron’s office nor his campaign replied either.
This wouldn’t be the first ethical quandary Cameron has faced while running Kentucky’s law enforcement operations. Cameron first drew national attention—and condemnation—after he defended the “no-knock” police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in 2020, calling the killing “justified.”
But the Edgewater investigation wouldn’t even be the first ethics dilemma tied to Cameron's campaign contributions this year.
In April, Cameron’s campaign and office defended a combined $100,000 in political donations from a gaming company that is currently suing the state, with Cameron named as one defendant.
The money came from gaming company Pace-O-Matic and two of its executives, and it went to a PAC backing Cameron’s campaign, called “Bluegrass Freedom Action,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported at the time. Pace-O-Matic had just spent months throwing cash at lobbyists, seemingly in a failed attempt to ply the Kentucky legislature to block a bill that would have restricted its gambling activity in the state.
When the bill passed, Pace-O-Matic sued the state. The $100,000 gift to the pro-Cameron PAC came in the weeks after the bill was blocked and before the company filed the lawsuit. Additionally, Pace-O-Matic executives and their family members—16 people in all—also gave nearly $30,000 directly to Cameron’s campaign, according to the Courier-Journal. All 16 contributions came on March 27—the day before the company filed its lawsuit.
The donations prompted a lawyer and donor to Cameron’s primary opponent, Kelly Craft, to file an ethics complaint. But Pace-O-Matic, the attorney general’s office, and Cameron all rejected suggestions of impropriety.
“In this specific instance, the Attorney General’s office has already been defending the legislation passed by the General Assembly. No matter who asks, he does the same thing, which is that he will stand up for what’s right and defend the laws of Kentucky,” Cameron's gubernatorial campaign manager Gus Herbert said in a statement at the time.
Last year, Kentucky Democrats alleged that Cameron violated state ethics rules when he announced his gubernatorial campaign while his office investigated sitting Democratic Gov. Andy Beshears. An ethics complaint at the time cited rulings that prohibit the attorney general from investigating a sitting governor. (In January, Cameron’s office ruled that Beshears had violated open records laws by withholding information related to school closures during the COVID pandemic.)
But Cameron, who denied wrongdoing in that matter, has also cried foul when it comes to investigations against Republicans. This month, he attacked the federal indictment against ally Donald Trump, saying that “Kentuckians continue to be concerned about the political weaponization of government power.”
Other ethics concerns linger among Democrats. This Thursday, the Cameron campaign lashed out at a political ad attacking him for his connections to efforts to score controversial pardons from former GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, who in his final months in office issued pardons to people convicted of grisly crimes, including murder and rape.
While Cameron initially vowed to investigate the pardon scandal, he handed it off to the FBI. He later hired two top officials who advocated for controversial pardons while working in Bevin’s office.
Cameron also has donor ties to another major player in Kentucky GOP politics who pushed Bevin to pardon a friend of his. That megadonor—Kentucky financial and nursing home magnate Terry Forcht, a longtime ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—contributed to Bevin while advocating for the pardon of the son of a Forcht family friend.
But the Forcht family also donated to Cameron himself—in 2019, according to state filings.
Earlier this month, Cameron was photographed meeting personally with the Republican financier at Forcht’s office.