Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron sent a total of 11 emails to his senior staff from January 2022 to July 2023, and he didn’t send a single text message to any of them during that same period, according to an open records request of the Republican official’s communications with top aides.
There could be a reasonable explanation for why it appears that Cameron, who is currently the GOP nominee for Kentucky governor, doesn’t communicate with his staff.
But his office is repeatedly refusing to say what is going on.
HuffPost obtained copies of records of Cameron’s communications with eight members of the Executive Office of the Kentucky Attorney General staff, originally obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The request for these records, which was not put in by HuffPost, specifically asks for copies of Cameron’s communications via his public accounts and devices, including emails, email attachments, calendar invites, text messages and any conversations with senior staff on messaging platforms such as Slack or GChat.
The records show Cameron sending two emails to senior staffers in 2022 and nine emails in the first half of 2023. All nine of those emails were simply Cameron recusing himself from certain cases. No records came back for Cameron’s text messages or messaging platforms.
In its accompanying letter, the FOIA office notes there is no record of Cameron communicating with some senior staffers at all during that year and a half, each of whom is named. The FOIA office also notes that several emails were withheld and gives specific reasons why each one was. The withheld materials are almost entirely related to drafts of public remarks.
Surely Cameron is regularly communicating with his top aides. It could be that he’s using a personal phone and a personal email account for official business, which would raise questions about transparency into what the Kentucky attorney general is saying and doing on the job. It could also be that Cameron sits in close physical proximity to his senior staff in the state Capitol and simply walks over and talks to them.
Or maybe … Cameron actually doesn’t communicate with his staff?
HuffPost provided all of these FOIA’d records to Cameron’s office last month and asked why it appears he barely communicates with eight of his top aides.
His office initially ignored HuffPost’s question, so we followed up a week later. Another week went by, and then a spokesperson replied with the following unattributed statement:
“As the Commonwealth’s top law enforcement officer, Daniel Cameron is committed to protecting the rights of Kentuckians, fighting the drug epidemic, and being a voice for the voiceless. Attorney General Cameron has routinely met with senior staff in his relentless efforts to rein in the disastrous mandates and unsound overreach handed down by the Biden and Beshear Administrations.”
The office did not answer the question of why public records seem to indicate Cameron barely communicates ― or doesn’t communicate at all ― with several senior staff. HuffPost followed up again with the same question more than two weeks ago. No response.
Amye Bensenhaver, a former Kentucky assistant attorney general who specialized in open records and open meetings opinions for 25 years, said Cameron is known for his “disdain for the principles of open government,” a topic she wrote about in a June opinion article in the Lexington Herald Leader.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but they are obfuscating,” she said of Cameron’s office. “It just doesn’t make sense that there would be so few emails from the attorney general to his executive staff, unless they are literally walking around holding his hand all the time.”
Bensenhaver, who is a founding member of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition, said the weird situation with Cameron’s record of communications is part of a much bigger issue being hashed out in the state. Her coalition is in the middle of a lawsuit in a Kentucky court of appeals aimed at requiring government officials to publicly disclose any public business they conduct on private devices or accounts.
The lawsuit began in a state district court in 2021 and was filed after Cameron issued a legal opinion in July of that year stating that “when no public funds have been spent to procure the cell phone services, then a public agency does not ‘own’ the text messages.” His opinion takes a far narrower interpretation of the scope of the state’s open records law than his predecessors.
Part of the reason that this batch of public records of Cameron’s communications with staff is so sparse is because of the way the request for information was worded, Bensenhaver said. It should have been framed more broadly to include private accounts and devices.
“They’re going to tell you as little as they can versus as much as they can,” she said. “They could simply say he uses a private account to avoid scrutiny or because of an opinion he issued in 2021 saying those aren’t public communications. The bottom line is this would have been their opportunity to explain. And they didn’t.”
HuffPost first spoke to Bensenhaver in July for another story about Cameron and public records. That piece was about the Republican attorney general refusing to explain why open records showed that Cameron hadn’t used his key fob or any other kind of security card to get into the Capitol, where his office is, for the last three years. Bensenhaver said she sees the two stories as bookends to the same concerning problem.
“To me, it’s really telling how dismissive they are,” she said of Cameron’s office. “It’s not a story about key fobs or emails; it’s a story about obfuscation and not being accountable. And now he wants to be governor.”