John Schickel has just about had it with campaign finance law in Kentucky.
The 61-year-old Boone County state senator, who slightly resembles Hedley Lamarr from Blazing Saddles, is suing to overturn state laws which prohibit individual campaign donations from exceeding $1,000 and preclude lobbyists from providing candidates with gifts.
“I don’t personally believe in limits,” Schickel told The Daily Beast. “But I’m a practical person and I do realize that there will be limits. The question is at what point do those limits become a severe impediment on free speech and freedom of expression. I don’t think there’s any question that the restrictions in Kentucky do that.”
State regulators have put these measures in place for a reason. A slew of bribery scandals in the early ’90s led to a number of legislators being jailed. An FBI operation called BOPTROT, a name that could also be used to describe an obscure square dance, exposed 15 lawmakers, including then-House Speaker Don Blandford, for selling their votes to the highest lobbying bidder.
Schickel said it’s only human nature to want to accept bribes, but what would keep someone from becoming a recipient of outsider money if his lawsuit is successful?
“Well, your conscience does and your moral convictions,” Schickel told me. “But that’s going to happen. It is. That’s human nature. But when that happens, that person needs to go to jail.”
This is not the first time the state senator has tried to free up dollars for political campaigns.
Schickel previously tried to double the $1,000 limit in March but the Democratic-led House blocked the amendment.
He’s primarily worried about reelection next year, stating in the lawsuit that he needs $350,000 to defend his seat. Schickel has under $100,000 from about 150 donors, according to the Lexington-Herald Leader.
The lawsuit, which must be addressed by state regulatory agencies by October 6, was co-filed by two Libertarian political candidates, who are angry that “caucus committees” are legally permitted to raise $2,500 for each political caucus in the legislative chamber. And running as a libertarian leaves them out of this equation.
Schickel thinks the suit will be successful and perhaps he’s right. Lower courts in Kentucky did in fact strike down a $50,000 limit on the amount that gubernatorial candidates can give to their own campaigns. He and his libertarian counterparts say they are ready to accept individual contributions in excess of $1,000 but have a “legitimate fear” of criminal enforcement. Schickel would not comment on the specific organizations he says are willing to give him big financial boosts.
“There are organizations that share my values that would give me campaign contributions if it were legal, but it’s not,” Schickel said. “I don’t want to get into specific organizations and put them on the spot.”
He thinks the suit will be successful and perhaps he’s right. Lower courts in Kentucky did in fact strike down a $50,000 limit on the amount that gubernatorial candidates can give to their own campaign.