campaign finance

Complaint filed with FEC contends campaign finance law violated by Kelsey congressional campaign

News release from Campaign Legal Center

WASHINGTON –  Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Democracy 21 (D21) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and will file with the Department of Justice (DOJ) against former Congressional candidate Brian Kelsey and others, including the American Conservative Union (ACU), for their part in a scheme to circumvent contribution limits and disclosure laws by illegally funneling funds from Kelsey’s state account through intermediaries to secretly support Kelsey’s run for U.S. Congress in 2016.

“In order to disguise the illegal transfer of prohibited state money into his federal race, it appears that Kelsey concocted a scheme to pass the money through a dark money daisy chain and straw donor reimbursement plot,” said Brendan Fischer, director, federal and FEC reform at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “Kelsey appears to have stacked legal violation on top of legal violation, and we anticipate that the FEC and DOJ will take this very seriously.”

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Black raising money for reelection to Congress, not a run for governor

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who has been mulling a run for the 2018 Republican gubernatorial nomination for months, has scheduled a Washington fundraiser this week — $2,500 admission for a “PAC host,” $1,000 for a “PAC attendee” and $500 for a non-PAC person – with proceeds earmarked for her congressional reelection campaign fund, reports Tennessee Star.

Thursday night’s fundraiser will be held at Ocean Prime, one of the premiere eating establishments on Capitol Hill.

The menu, which features a Ribeye Steak for $52 and Dutch Harbor King Crab Legs for $65, is well suited to Washington lobbyists, but a far cry from the Cracker Barrels that dot the I-40 corridor of the Sixth Congressional District Black represents in Tennessee.

The news of Black’s Congressional fundraiser has veteran political tea leaf readers across the state of Tennessee scratching their heads.

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Addiction medication company reported pushing product through legislation, donating to TN legislators

Alkermes, a company that makes an addiction treatment medication called Vivitrol, has been pushing legislation at the state level that would give its product a preference over others, according to a National Public Radio report. At the same time, affliliate WPLN reports that the Alkermes donated more than $20,000 to Tennessee legislators last year.

State records show Alkermes registered four lobbyists for this year’s Tennessee legislative session. The company’s PAC registered to make state-level donations late in 2015, beginning actual donations in January of 2016.

There were several bills filed this year dealing with addiction treatment – including some that appear to be placeholder “caption bills” designed to be amended later. But a quick skim of legislative records indicates none advanced out of committee.

The NPR report – bearing the headline “A Drugmaker Tries To Cash In On The Opioid Epidemic, One State Law At A Time” — focuses on Indiana, where a registered Alkermes lobbyist, who also heads a mental health advocacy group, drafted a bill that was approved after what some thought was a misleading promotional effort. Excerpt:

He said the legislation would move the state “toward evidence-based treatment.”

But the bill wouldn’t do that. Instead, it would cement rules making it harder to access certain addiction medications — medications that many patients rely on. The goal was to steer doctors toward a specific brand-name drug: Vivitrol.

… His efforts have helped turn Indiana into what Alkermes describes in investor documents as an “up-and-coming” state, where the drug’s sales are poised to jump dramatically.

McCaffrey’s work promoting Vivitrol via legislation in Indiana is part of a larger pattern. An investigation by NPR and Side Effects Public Media has found that in statehouses across the country, and in Congress, Alkermes is pushing Vivitrol while contributing to misconceptions and stigma about other medications used to treat opioid addiction.

From WPLN:

In Tennessee, Alkermes has made 30 contributions to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and to political action committees. All of those were between January of last year and the November election. The company has also hired lobbyists.

It’s not clear, though, this early-stage political push has been persuasive. Marie Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, says Vivitrol can be an effective treatment for some opioid abusers, but Tennessee doesn’t prefer it to other therapies.

“What we want is for people to get avenues of treatment, and we are for any avenue that will help you get into recovery and stay in recovery,” she says.

But, state officials add, drug courts are using Vivitrol more often. And that’s where many decisions about treatment are made.

Note: House Speaker Beth Harwell, who recently urged Attorney General Herbert Slatery to file a lawsuit against manufacturers of opioid drugs, was one of the bigger beneficiaries of Alkermes donations — $1,000 to her reelection campaign and $500 to her leadership PAC.

The Alkermes PAC on June 6 filed an amended version of its 4th quarter 2016 disclosure with the Registry of Election Finance that appears to duplicate most of the donations listed in a previous disclosure. (The duplication’s are not included in reaching the count of more than $20,000 to 30 legislators and PACs.)  Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance,  says via email that the Registry has sent a letter asking for clarification of the filing.

New $2.5M anti-litter campaign: ‘Nobody Trashes Tennessee’ succeeds ‘Tennessee Trash’

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has launched a new anti-litter campaign under the slogan “Nobody Trashes Tennessee,” including a TV spot that is perhaps somewhat reminiscent of the old “Tennessee Trash” TV campaign, launched back in the late 1970s.

The “Tennessee Trash” commercial, which became fairly famous, featured a scruffy-looking fellow in a convertible throwing litter all over the landscape and a song including the line: “Ain’t no lower class than Tennessee trash.” Some argued it made the fellow sort of a role model rather than discouraging litter.

The latest TV spot features a young woman driver casually tossing a single drink cup and straw out her car window – then later shows her awakening as a wall caves in and a truck load of trash is dumped into her bedroom as the narrator talks about Tennessee’s litter problems.

Here is the old

Here is the new

TDOT has a news release HERE. The Times Free Press has an article on the new campaign, including some information on the research — including polling and focus groups – that led to its development. An excerpt:

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Registry votes to fine Durham $465K for campaign finance violations

The Registry of Election Finance board voted today to levy $465,000 in civil penalties against former state Rep. Jeremy Durham for multiple violations of state campaign finance laws. That’s the biggest such fine ever imposed by the watchdog agency in its 26-year history.

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Possible ‘straw donor scheme’ seen in Kelsey campaign money transactions with other legislators

When state Sen. Brian Kelsey ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, he was giving political money to state legislators who also gave money to him, reports The Tennessean, and a Washington attorney who specializes in campaign finance law says the transactions could be a “straw donor scheme” that warrants a federal investigation.

The story – declared part of “an ongoing USA Today Network-Tennessee investigation” – lists seven Republican state legislators and one unsuccessful GOP candidate for a state House seat who gave to Kelsey and received funds from his state Senate campaign account or a PAC he operates. It also says Kelsey also donated from his Senate account to eight legislators who did not give to his congressional campaign and sent money through his Red State PAC to 10 legislators who did not donate to his campaign.

The legislators with back-and-forth donations: Sens. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, Steve Dickerson of Nashville, Delores Gresham of Somerville and Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro; Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Ron Gant of Rossville and Martin Daniel of Knoxville. Steve Glover, who lost a race against Democratic Rep. Darren Jernigan of Nashville, is also listed. An excerpt:

A political consultant with knowledge of the Tennessee lawmaker’s transactions said Kelsey asked multiple state legislators to make a federal contribution in exchange for a donation to their own state campaigns.

While Kelsey and his donors denied coordination, the dates and amounts of the transactions and previous evidence involving campaign contributions are enough to warrant a Federal Election Commission investigation, (Brendan) Fischer said.

“It’s even further evidence that there was some sleazy business happening in Tennessee with these transfers of funds,” Fischer said.

Fischer is “an attorney and Federal Election Commission reform program director with Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center.”

Note: The newspaper had a report last week questioning the legality of money shifting between Kelsey’s campaign, two PACS and a major GOP donor. There’s a post on that article HERE.

On fines for violations of TN campaign finance, lobbying laws going unpaid

The Registry of Election Finance and the Tennessee Ethics Commission have levied $730,000 in civil penalties since 2010, but collected just 21 percent of that total, reports The Tennessean.

The Registry, which oversees enforcement of campaign finance laws, has $356,125 in unpaid fines during the period while the Ethics Commission, which oversees enforcement of lobbying laws and the filing of conflict-of-interest disclosures, has $218,380 in unpaid penalties. (Note: A big chunk of the unpaid Registry penalties are from 2016, when the agency assessed $215,300 in fines with $172,275 unpaid as of last month, according to Registry figures.) If other unpaid penalties going back up to  26 years are added, the unpaid total reaches more than $1 million.

These findings underline what many Tennessee politicos already know: The public entities tasked with holding officials accountable have little, if any, teeth.

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Legality of Kelsey-PAC campaign money shifting questioned

There’s a money trail leading from the state campaign coffers of Sen. Brian Kelsey to radio advertisements used by an outside group to buoy his unsuccessful 2016 congressional bid, reports The Tennessean.

Kelsey’s trail involves the use of political action committees controlled by a private Nashville club (The Standard Club), a prominent but controversial GOP donor (Andrew Miller) and a well-known conservative advocacy organization (the American Conservative Union). It also may indicate illegal conduct by Kelsey and others, an expert said.

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Ramsey gives $50K in campaign funds to Ron Ramsey Agricultural Center

Excerpt from a Kingsport Times-News report

BLOUNTVILLE — Former Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey grew up working on a Sullivan County farm, and in a way he closed the book on his 24-year political career Saturday in the name of Sullivan County farmers.

During a dedication ceremony, Ramsey contributed the final $50,000 left in his campaign fund to pay for the completion of the large commercial kitchen at the newly christened Ron Ramsey Agriculture Center located at 140 Spurgeon Lane near Tri-Cities Airport.

Before a crowd of county and state dignitaries, as wells as family and friends, Ramsey dedicated the contribution to wife Sindy, whom he described as his best friend and the “wind beneath my wings.”

… Ramsey was quick to point out that neither his $50,000 contribution nor the $3.5 million already invested by the state will be enough to complete the facility or sustain it in the future and make it economically viable.

Although the facility’s primary use will be providing space for local agricultural programs, it will also be marketed as a convention center and event venue available to the public.

Note: Ramsey had $202,088 left in his candidate campaign account at last report (in January) and $283,849 in RAAMPAC, his political action committee. Updated disclosures are not due until July.

Last-minute move to raise campaign contribution limits fizzles on House floor

In literally the last minutes of the 2017 legislative session, an attempt to substantially increase Tennessee political contribution limits surfaced, then subsided after a preliminary vote indicated it would fail. But the proposal will be up for a vote on both the House and Senate floors when the 2018 session begins.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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