Rand Paul is giving new meaning to the term “buying an election.” Over the weekend, the Kentucky senator said he gave $250,000 to his state’s Republican Party for the explicit purpose of funding its presidential caucus in March. He promised to pony up another $200,000 in the fall, enough to cover the entire cost of the nominating event. Put another way: Paul is paying the party to hold an election in which he is running. He’s doing it neither to ensure a victory nor out of the simple goodness of his heart. No, Paul is making a rather blatant end-run around state law, and he’s compensating the Kentucky GOP for going along with him. The law forbids someone from appearing on the same ballot as a candidate for two different offices, and Paul, who is up for reelection next year, doesn’t want to give up his Senate seat to make his rather long-shot bid for the presidency.
Democrats in the Bluegrass Grass state blocked his allies’ attempt to repeal the law, so Paul has been trying to persuade the Republican Party to ditch its presidential primary in May in favor of a caucus in March. That way, the primaries for president and Senate won’t be on the same day, and Paul won’t have to appear twice on the same ballot. (The change wouldn’t fix the problem in the general election, but for a candidate sitting around eighth in the polls, that’s a bridge to cross another day.) Paul’s idea won a crucial endorsement from Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and preeminent power broker in Kentucky, and while members of the state party have generally been receptive, some have voiced concerns about paying for a separate election in a year when Republicans are desperately trying to wrest the governor’s mansion away from Democrats. That election is this November, and it’s expected to be close.
“In essence, he’s buying the opportunity to run for both offices at the same time,” observed Fred Wertheimer, the longtime election watchdog who is president and founder of Democracy 21. In a letter to the state party’s central committee, Paul made clear that he was transferring the money as part of an assurance that neither the party nor any of its local chairmen would be “on the hook” for the election. “I will fully fund this caucus,” Paul wrote. He noted that the party would gain extra money by charging filing fees to the candidates participating in the caucus. The full state GOP committee is expected to vote on the plan August 22.