Donors filling governor’s campaign coffers

Published 11:56 am Wednesday, April 19, 2023

BY TOM LOFTUS

Kentucky Lantern

The largest batch of contributions fueling the reelection ambition of Gov. Andy Beshear does not come from a personal injury law firm, a highway contractor or other traditional sources of money given to an incumbent Democratic governor of Kentucky.

It comes from newcomers to the world of political giving and from a traditionally Republican stronghold — donors associated with the freight-hauling company WB Transport of London and its co-founder Randall Weddle, the mayor of London.

Within the past 17 months the reelection campaign of Beshear and the Kentucky Democratic Party have received at least $305,500 from this group of donors, none of whom had ever before made a big political contribution.

Randall Weddle himself did not contribute. But his wife gave $32,000, his son gave $17,000, his daughter $16,500, his mother $7,000, his mother-in-law $7,000, a sister $17,000, another sister $15,000. Other relatives gave, as did others associated with WB Transport and Weddle.

In addition, the WB Transport/Weddle group appears to be one of several groups of first-time Kentucky donors giving maximum contributions to Beshear and his party who are engaged in the reverse logistics/liquidation business which re-sells merchandise that has been returned by the original buyer.

The analysis of campaign finance reports filed by the Beshear campaign and the Kentucky Democratic Party shows that since Dec. 6, 2021 those two political committees have received:

• $149,000 from the family and a business associate of Paul Guastello Jr., a reverse logistics consultant from Kansas City, Missouri. (See list below.)

• $168,162 from 33 donors employed by liquidation and discount outlets across the country – donors from Hickory, North Carolina to Fontana, California. (See list below.)

• $68,000 from four members of the family that owns H & K Pallet Sales, of London.

On Jan. 3, Beshear’s reelection campaign put out a news release boasting it had raised a record $5.2 million and stressing the importance of the fundraising success of the Kentucky Democratic Party.

Kentucky Lantern decided to take a closer look at who gave the money that provided the popular sitting governor with a massive fundraising lead over Republican rivals in this year’s race for governor.

Candidates and political parties are required by law to disclose the names of donors and the amounts they gave. These contributions can be found on the websites of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance and the Federal Election Commission.

But the online listings are voluminous, the websites difficult to navigate.

Kentucky Lantern examined those contributions — names and occupations of donors, the amounts they gave and on what date — to identify groups of associated donors who have given the most.

The examination found big contributions from many groups that donated to past campaigns of Beshear and his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear: state employees, Beshear appointees to state boards and commissions, law firms, state contractors, and businesses closely regulated by the state like Churchill Downs and Kentucky Downs.

But the analysis found surprising groups of new donors – clusters of big givers with links to the reverse logistics trade from Kentucky, Kansas City, and coast to coast.

“Reverse logistics” is a term applied to the processes that follow many products after they have been returned by customers to the retailer. The process takes the product backward on the supply chain with the goal of retaining as much value as possible for resale at a discount by wholesale, liquidation, or “pallet sales” stores.

Randall Weddle, who won election as mayor of London last November in his first bid for public office, said he had no role in raising the money. He said he sold WB Transport and its related reverse logistics company about two years ago.

He said he is aware that his wife, other family members and some close friends are enthusiastic supporters of Beshear and donated. But he said he doesn’t even know some of the current WB Transport employees who were donors. And he said there is no reason to question the contributions.

“What is wrong with that – if you believe in the individual and you believe that they’re good for the state?” Weddle asked. “It happens in every race across this nation – that friends, families that get together, that give to the person they believe in with no special interest.”

Each contribution listed in reports is within legal limits of how much a person can give, though nearly all were at the limits: $15,000 per year to the party and $2,000 to Beshear’s primary election campaign.

Bundling political contributions is legal as long as the contribution is voluntary and the contributor is not reimbursed for the donation. It is illegal for a person to exceed the donation limits by making excess contributions in the names of other people.

Only two of the 19 donors in the WB/Weddle group had ever before made a political contribution, and those were very small, according to online records of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance and Federal Election Commission.

Weddle warned against drawing false conclusions.

“Everybody you’ve named has money…” Weddle said of his family and associates who gave. “Everybody we know, who my wife talks to, they all support Beshear entirely.”

Given the dominance of the Republican Party in the General Assembly, he said it is important that Beshear be re-elected. “We need a balance of powers. We’ll have a superpower if Beshear don’t win,” Weddle said.

As to why he did not give, Weddle said, “I only gave to Trump. Basically, that’s the only guy that I’ve given to. … I’ve been an apolitical person.”

Weddle is registered as a Republican and in late 2020 and early 2021 he gave $25,120 to a pro-Donald Trump committee. But he has made smaller contributions to other Republicans: $2,000 to the campaign of Republican Jonathan Shell for agriculture commissioner last year, and in 2019 gave $2,800 to the re-election committees of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and then-Gov. Matt Bevin.

Others among the group of WB Transport/Weddle donors who were contacted by phone shed little light on how the contributions all came about.

“I donated because I wanted to,” said Jennifer Weddle, declining further comment. Jennifer Weddle, identified in contribution reports as manager of The Depot on Main, Corbin, donated $15,000 to the Kentucky Democratic Party and $2,000 to the Beshear campaign in December.

Robert Gray, an official of WB Transport who has given $30,000 to the Kentucky Democratic Party and $2,000 to Beshear’s campaign in the past 18 months, hung up when asked about his contributions.

Jeremy Bryant, a Corbin attorney who has represented Weddle, said he and his wife contributed a combined $34,000 to help Beshear because “We like his policies, we like the way he handled COVID….I’m an attorney, he’s an attorney, and he’s always struck me as a reasonable individual.”

Beshear declined to be interviewed, said Eric Hyers, manager of Beshear’s re-election campaign. Hyers also declined an interview and did not address questions emailed to him about the WB Transport/Weddle contributions.

Hyers released a statement that said Beshear’s record as a popular and effective governor makes it “no surprise that a broad, bipartisan coalition is enthusiastically supporting his bid for a second term. Thousands of Kentuckians have contributed to his reelection.”

While Weddle said he sold WB Transport two years ago, he appears to have retained at least some unofficial connection with that business. Last April, he hosted the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of a 200,000-square-foot warehouse of WB Transport.

Beshear traveled to London to also speak at the event.

And last June, Beshear appointed Weddle as a member of the Kentucky Transportation Center Advisory Board.

Weddle and Hyers each said there is no connection between the London visit or appointment and the Weddle family contributions.

“Gov. Beshear has never asked me, or my family, for nothing. And we’ve never asked him for nothing,” Weddle said.

Hyers said in his statement that Beshear “has made more than 2,000 board appointments, including Democrats, Republicans and Independents from all parts of the commonwealth. These appointments are always based on qualification…”

Another $149,000 in contributions to the Democratic Party and Beshear campaign came from Paul Guastello Jr., his family and a business associate and the business associate’s wife. They all live in the Kansas City, Missouri area.

Guastello said he has done business in Kentucky and praised the job Beshear is doing as governor. “Andy actually reminds me as the kind of guy that could go way beyond the governor of Kentucky,” he said.

He said he does not recall how he came to meet Beshear. And he declined to elaborate on his business activity in Kentucky or the contributions. “I don’t discuss politics,” he said.

He said he is not affiliated with WB Transport, but ended the phone interview when asked if he was ever affiliated with Randall Weddle.

Reports filed by the party and Beshear campaign list Guastello’s occupation as an “education consultant” for “St. Pius.”

But in recent reports documenting his contributions to two Missouri political committees he listed his employer as “Reverse Logistics.”  And his profile on the social media website LinkedIn lists his occupation as “Reverse Logistics Consultant.”

Records filed with the Kentucky secretary of state show that in late 2020 Randall Weddle was no longer listed as the member of WB Transport LLC. Instead, the new member of WB Transport was listed as “Reverse Logistics Management,” a Missouri limited liability company. Owners of an LLC are called members, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The latest WB Transport annual report filed with the secretary of state is signed by a Kansas City, Missouri attorney who did not return phone messages from Kentucky Lantern.

Weddle said in the telephone interview that he has “heard of” Guastello but has never had any business with him and “I don’t really know him.”

Another contributor from the group, Charles Cuda of Gladstone, Missouri, said he wanted to check with Guastello before commenting on why he and his wife contributed $34,000 to the Kentucky Democratic Party and Beshear on New Year’s Eve in 2021. He asked Kentucky Lantern to send him an email. It did. Cuda did not reply.

Nearly three dozen additional donors from the world of liquidation and discount stores gave at least $168,162 to Beshear’s campaign and Democratic Party.

These donors are mostly from North Carolina, California, and Texas, but a few are from Kentucky. And one of them appears to have a link in Kentucky to a Weddle company.

Kentucky Lantern concluded they constitute a group because each is employed by some kind of discount outlet (“Liquidation Warehouse,” “Logistical Warehouse,” “Home Center Warehouse,” “Flaming Deals,” etc.), none had ever given a Kentucky contribution before, contributions were in maximum amounts and they were made on about the same dates.

These contributions came in three distinct waves: $22,000 from 11 donors in March of 2022; eight donors gave a combined $110,162 to the Kentucky Democratic Party in late August of 2022; 18 gave $36,000 to the Beshear campaign in late September of 2022.

Jonathan Manhan, of Canoga Park, California, is one of the donors listed as giving $2,000 to the Beshear campaign in the first wave. He is the owner of BCS Inc., a company that his LinkedIn profile says buys and sells surplus inventories.

Manhan signed corporate paperwork filed with the Kentucky secretary of state in late 2021 as the authorized agent of JRD London, LLC. Weddle is the organizer and member of JRD London, LLC, according to secretary of state records.

Manhan said in a brief phone interview that he has property in Kentucky and knows Weddle. He asked that questions be sent to him via email, but did not reply to an email.

Weddle said he has never been a business associate of Manhan. Weddle said Manhan may have said he knows of him because, “I’m big in the logistics world.”

Chad Faouri, of Logistical Warehouse in Newton, North Carolina, gave $2,000 to Beshear in the first wave, and $15,000 to the Kentucky Democratic Party in the second.

“We like the governor. I think he’s doing good. …” Faouri said in a phone interview. “We do have a business in Kentucky, we know a lot of people in Kentucky.”

When pressed about the contributions of many other North Carolinians on the same date, and who his contacts are in Kentucky, Faouri said he had to take another phone call and hung up.

Ahmad Dohast, a customer service worker at Home Center in Louisville, gave $2,000 to Beshear’s campaign in the third wave on Sept. 30, 2022.

“I honestly would not like to discuss that,” Dohast said when asked about the contribution. “I thought it was something pertaining to work. But thank you for calling.”

Samir Hamideh, of Lomita, California, who gave $2,000 to Beshear in the first wave and $5,162 to the party in the second, hung up when asked about the contributions.

Four members of the Woods family that owns H & K Pallet Sales in London who had never before made a political contribution each gave as much as the law allows to the Beshear campaign and Democratic Party on Dec. 6, 2021. (Each gave $2,000 to Beshear and $15,000 to the party.)

Kenneth Woods of H & K Pallet Sales, said he does not do business with any Weddle businesses and declined further comment. “What I do with my money is up to me,” Woods said.