While super PACs active in the 2012 elections were run by savvy political operatives raising millions from well-heeled contributors, Progress Kentucky is led by what one former state Democratic Party official described as "just a couple of activists" who are more intent on making a mockery of super PACs.
Progress Kentucky, created in December, has collected about $1,000 and spent $18, according to its latest filing with the Federal Election Commission. By contrast, McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, has raised a hefty $10 million toward his re-election effort, according to his FEC filing.
"This has nothing to do with the party or even a group," Chris Tobe, a former state Democratic Party board member, said in a statement to The Associated Press. "(They're) just creating a national media buzz by bending or breaking the rules."
The group is being tied to a secret recording of a February campaign meeting held by McConnell in which his aides disparaged actress Ashley Judd. The aides laughed about Judd's past bouts with depression and discussed possibly using that against her, as well as her political positions and religious beliefs. She was considering a Senate bid at the time.
Mother Jones, the left-leaning magazine, posted the recording on Tuesday. McConnell's campaign assailed what it called "Watergate-style tactics" to bug the office and asked the FBI to investigate. The FBI is now investigating the incident, which involves Progress Kentucky Executive Director Shawn Reilly and volunteer Curtis Morrison, both of Louisville.
Ted Shouse, Reilly's attorney, told the AP that Reilly and Morrison were in a "public hallway" outside the office building suite where McConnell's meeting took place. But Shouse said Reilly never recorded anything.
Morrison didn't return phone calls from the AP or answer the door Friday of his Louisville residence, where the blinds and curtains were closed and mail overflowed in the mailbox.
Reilly and Morrison have little influence in Kentucky's well-established Democratic Party, Tobe said.
Kentucky is state with more registered Democrats, 1.67 million, than Republicans, 1.16 million. It also has a Democratic governor, Steve Beshear. But Kentuckians have tended to vote for Republican candidates for Congress and president.
Tobe, who once served on the board of the Louisville Metro Democratic Party, said Reilly and Morrison are "likable." He said he met them while working on Democratic campaigns and causes in Louisville. But he said the two "seem to believe in their causes to an extreme."
The group drew negative attention with a tweet in February that offended both Republicans and Democrats. A Progress Kentucky volunteer referenced the Asian heritage of McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, in a tweet about the United States losing jobs to China. Progress Kentucky later apologized.
McConnell was swift in his response, calling the Twitter message a "racial slur" and "the ultimate outrage." His campaign then ran a statewide television spot in which Chao said "far-left special interests are also attacking my ethnicity."
Reilly graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in political science in 2006. He served as a financial adviser before forming the group in December, according to his LinkedIn page.
Shouse described Reilly as a married "good Catholic." Reilly has been cooperating with authorities since the day the recording became public, Shouse said.
According to an FEC filing, the group's treasurer was Douglas L. Davis until he resigned on Tuesday -- the day the secret recording was made public. Davis declined to comment to the AP, which reached him by phone on Friday.
"With my resignation I will no longer be liable for any reporting, donations or expenditures made to, from or on behalf of the committee," Davis wrote in the filing. Earlier this year, the group failed to turn in its year-end report on time, according to the FEC.
Morrison ran for the state Senate in 2012 in a bid to represent some of Louisville's trendy and heavily Democratic neighborhoods. He listed his campaign website as www.senatorawesome.com, according to his filing with the Secretary of State. He lost in the Democratic primary by a margin of 5-to-1.
Morrison was one of the organizers of the Occupy Louisville movement. After months of protesting in two Louisville parks, the group cleared out its tents and personal items about a year ago. He writes a blog, louisvillecourant.blogspot.com, and posted as late as Friday, but made no comment about the McConnell recording.
Morrison bills himself as a journalist on his LinkedIn page. Besides his blog, he wrote for a community journalism website, InsiderLouisville.com. Executive Editor Terry Boyd wrote in a blog post on Friday that Morrison is no longer a contributor.
"Curtis has the makings of a solid reporter, under adult supervision," Boyd stated in his blog post. "Unfortunately, Curtis is also an overt and dedicated political activist, and you can't be both at the same time at Insider Louisville."
Tobe said Progress Kentucky is not the iconic super PAC people usually think of.
"As Stephen Colbert has made a mockery of super PACs on his show, this is just another example of taking it to another extreme," Tobe said. "Most people assume that you have to have money to have a super PAC. This shows you do not."
Associated Press writers Brett Barrouquere and Roger Alford contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.