congressional campaigns

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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Lots of Republians eyeing run for Black’s seat — if she runs for governor

While state Rep. Judd Matheny has declared flatly that he’s run for the 6th Congressional District seat if incumbent Republican Diane Black runs for governor instead of seeking reelection, Cari Wade Gervin reports there’s a long list of others considering the idea as well.

If Black does not run for Congress, the 6th District is likely to have a crowded Republican primary, with Matheny, Cookeville blogger Christopher B. Monday and possibly television pundit and Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes. Meanwhile, rumors are swirling about other current state legislators contemplating a race, like state Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville), Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) and Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

Lamberth said he has not decided anything about a run but “is flattered that my fellow Tennesseans would consider me a possible candidate.” Also, House Majority Caucus Chair Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) said he “has not ruled anything out” regarding a congressional run. But, he added, “It’s still a long ways away. Right now my only focus is on leading my caucus and serving my constituents.”

Another possible candidate is John Rose, the president of Boson Software, a Nashville-based information technology training provider, and a former state secretary of agriculture under then-Gov. Don Sundquist. Rose serves on the board of the Tennessee Tech University Foundation and is the chair of the Tennessee State Fair Association. Rose also owns one of the state’s oldest working farms, established in Smith County in 1790, prior to the formal existence of Tennessee.

Rep. Judd Matheny: I’ll run for Diane Black’s congressional seat if she runs for governor

State Rep. Judd Matheny tells Tennessee Star that he’s “100 percent in the race for Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District” – if incumbent Republican Diane Black runs for governor instead of seeking reelection.

Black (R-TN), who currently represents the 6th Congressional District, is considered likely to enter the race for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018. Rumors abound as to when that might happen, but the consensus is that if she decides to run, she will need to make the announcement some time between July and September.

… “If Diane Black does not run for governor, I will not run for the 6th Congressional district seat, and will instead for re-election to the Tennessee House of Representatives,” Matheny said.

First elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2002, Matheny has long been a champion of conservative causes in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Matheny was one of 35 Republican members of the House of Representatives who voted against Governor’ Haslam’s gas tax increase in the critical House vote in April where the bill passed by a 60 to 37 margin.

Note: State Sen. Mark Green, who has bowed out of the governor’s race saying he’s inclined toward seeking a position in Washington, is another potential candidate for the 6th District seat (Previous post HERE). As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Black is currently trying to come up with a federal budget plan — and having lots of problems because of Republican infighting, according to a review of the situation today in Politico.  As previously noted, she apparently will have to resign as a committee chairman once she announces as a candidate for governor.

Poll of GOP voters finds many prefer ‘someone else’ to Corker (but not Joe Carr or Andy Ogles)

A poll of likely Tennessee Republican primary voters indicates U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s reelection in 2018 is supported by 41.1 percent of those surveyed while 41.6 percent would rather “give someone else a chance,” according to Tennessee Star.

The poll also found that Corker would face a statistical dead heat in a mythical matchup against U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn: Corker 41.4 percent versus 38.6 for Blackburn, who said this week – after the poll was taken – that she will seek reelection to a ninth House term next year rather than challenge Corker. (Previous post HERE)

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Blackburn to seek reelection to House seat

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, subject of speculation as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Bob Corker, tells The Tennessean she will instead just seek reelection next year to a ninth term representing Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District.

“I am running for re-election to the House of Representatives,” Blackburn, R-Brentwood, told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee on Tuesday. “That is my focus.”

…Blackburn, who has increased her national profile in recent years and spoke at last year’s Republican National Convention, has served in Congress since 2002.

While state Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, who recently said he would not be running for governor, lives in Blackburn’s district and expressed interest in serving the state from Washington, D.C., it is unclear whether he would challenge her.

The more likely scenario for Green would be to run for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, in the event that she enters the governor’s race. Black hasn’t announced her intentions but is expected to launch her campaign this summer.

The Constitution does not require U.S. House candidates to live in the district they are seeking to represent. House members must be at least 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years and live in the same state as the district they want to represent.

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.

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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Green gets out of governor’s race, eyes run for Congress instead

State Sen. Mark Green declared Friday that he won’t resume his campaign for governor and instead will “look to Washington, D.C.” for a next step in his political career.

The Clarksville physician/businessman didn’t say what office he would seek, but speculation immediately focused on the 6th Congressional District seat now held by fellow Republican Rep. Diane Black, who is expected to become a candidate for governor later this year. (Note: Most recent previous post HERE.)  If so, she would not seek reelection to Congress in 2018 and Green would be running for an open seat. He doesn’t actually live in the 6th (Clarksville is in the 7th, represented by Rep. Marsha Blackburn), but the law would allow him to run — subject to moving into the district if he won.

Another possibility would be the U.S. Senate seat now held by Bob Corker. But Green, despite some differences on issues, has recently praised Corker for the senator’s support of Green as President Trump’s nominee to become U.S. Army secretary. Green dropped the effort after coming in for strong criticism from LGBT and Muslim groups.

In the GOP governor’s race, the Green retreat from a run may most benefit Sen. Mae Beavers, who scheduled her formal announcement as a candidate on Saturday. Both Green and Beavers have strong support among tea party folk and a primary clash between the two state senators would have split that vote.

Here’s Green’s statement:

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Ryan’s Knoxville country club fundraiser draws protesters

U.S.  House Speaker Paul Ryan had private visits in Knoxville and Nashville Thursday with Tennessee Republican congressmen, reports the News Sentinel. Outside of Knoxville’s Cherokee County Club, site of a fundraiser, more than 100 protesters showed up despite the rain.

“He’s in there charging $10,000 for a photo op, and then we’re out here trying to make sure that we have health care next year,” said a soaked Gloria Johnson, a former Democratic state representative and the organizer of the protest, who joked that she left her raincoat at home.

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