PACs

Harwell appoints PAC treasurer to TN State Museum governing board

House Speaker Beth Harwell has reappointed Deputy Speaker Steve McDaniel to the governing board of the Tennessee State Museum, but is giving her own seat on the panel to Tina Hodges, CEO of Nashville-based Advance Financial.

Harwell had previously appointed herself to a four-year term on the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission that officially expired June 30, but she continued to serve through the panel’s July 3 meeting, as allowed under relevant rules allowing an appointee to stay aboard until a successor is appointed, said Kara Owen, spokeswoman to the speaker in response to email inquiries.

Subsequently, Owen said, Harwell appointed Hodges, who already serves – by appointment of Gov. Bill Haslam – on the board of directors for Volunteer Tennessee, a group that has the declared mission of promoting “volunteerism and community service” by Tennesseans. She is currently listed as vice chairman.

Hodges also serves as treasurer of Advance PAC, a political action committee operated by Advance Financial. A check of the Registry of Campaign Finance website for 2015 and 2016 shows Advance PAC giving Harwell’s reelection campaign for her state House seat $10,000 and it also donated $8,000 to the leadership PAC operated by Harwell.

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Duncan paid $316K in campaign funds to son; other family members also on payroll

U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr.’s congressional campaign account has paid the Knoxville Republican’s son, John J. Duncan III, $316,500 in salary since July, 2013, when the younger Duncan pleaded guilty to misconduct charges and resigned as Knox County trustee, reports the Nashville Post.

The campaign also pays for his son’s cellphone and reimburses his mileage, many meals and multiple other expenses, according to reporter Cari Wade Gervin’s review of campaign disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The article says that the veteran officeholder has also made thousands of dollars in payments to other family members – another son, a niece, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law and his sister – through his campaign fund and through his political action committee, Road to Victory PAC.

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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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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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TSEA backs underdog Democrat in House District 95 special election

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Employees Action Movement endorses Julie Byrd Ashworth, D-Collierville, for House District 95.

“Working to elect candidates who support state employees is an important goal for TEAM-PAC, which is why we are happy to endorse Julie Byrd Ashworth for House District 95,” TEAM-PAC Administrative Committee Chair Patricia Bowman said.

“Ms. Ashworth’s experience as a trail lawyer will be an asset on Capitol Hill in Nashville as she advocates for state employees,” TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps said. “Our local state employees were impressed with her knowledge of the issues affecting state employees.”

Note: Ashworth won the Democratic nomination in the House District 95 special election, called after the resignation of Republican Rep. Mark Lovell after he was accused of sexual harassment, without a primary opponent. The Republican nominee, businessman and school board member Kevin Vaughan, defeated six opponents in the heavily Republican district. The general election is June 15. TSEA Executive Director Stamps, quoted in the release, is a former Republican state representative and former political director of the Tennessee Republican Party.

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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On legislators, a private club, a PAC and ‘a peculiar circle’

The private club and the political action committee operated by The Standard, an upscale Nashville restaurant located near the state Capitol, have been giving and receiving money from state legislator campaign funds, reports The Tennessean. And sometimes there’s “a peculiar circle of payments.”

Twenty-five Republican state legislators and Nashville’s Democratic District Attorney, Glen Funk, are members of the private club and collectively they have paid about $150,000 from their political campaign accounts to the restaurant and club since it was founded in 2009. About $50,000 of that went to pay for private club memberships.

Standard Club PAC, meanwhile, has donated about $100,000 to campaigns of people who are members or who frequent the club, the newspaper says. An excerpt:

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Judge rules against Registry in PAC case

An administrative law judge has ruled that Williamson Strong, a citizen group that got involved in Williamson County school board elections, is not a political action committee, reports the Nashville Scene. That’s contrary to a decision of the state Registry of Election Finance board.

Judge Michael Begley in his 16-page order found that the group’s payment of website fees did not constitute political action and that they “effectively acted as a media organization with respect to the 2014 election cycle. [Williamson Strong] published news stories, commentaries or editorials periodically. … The Registry provided insufficient evidence to rebut Williamson Strong’s contention that it fell within the media exception.” The judge also found that there was no express advocacy for candidates by the group.

Formed in 2014 to encourage public participation in typically low voter turnout in school board elections, Williamson Strong maintains a website and Facebook page and its members frequently tweet from education events. Williamson Strong never raised or donated money for a political candidate.

Following the complaints of ultra-conservative school board member Susan Curlee, who has since resigned and left the county, the Registry began investigating Williamson Strong in late 2014. The Registry fined Williamson Strong $5,000 for, among other things, spending money to point out the relationship between candidates for the school board, including Curlee, were endorsed by the far-right 912 Project.

…The Registry has 15 days to file a response to Begley’s order. Their next public hearing is on April 12.

Note: Text of the ruling is posted HERE.

Registry finds no wrongdoing by Stand for Children PAC

Four former Metro school board candidates and the special-interest group Stand for Children were cleared of wrongdoing by the Registry of Election Finance on Wednesday, reports WSMV-TV. The PAC and a independent expenditure group with the same name together about $250,000 last summer in supporting the four candidates and attacking their opponents.

Commissioners voted unanimously to dismiss a complaint that alleged Stand for Children and the former contenders for Metro Nashville School Board violated campaign finance law by exceeding contribution limits and illegally coordinating during a blackout period.

Jane Meneely, Miranda Christy, Thom Druffel and Jackson Miller all lost their campaigns. The attorney representing Stand for Children said this effort was a smear campaign orchestrated by sore winners.

“It is important to note that the original complaint filed against Stand and candidates for the Metro Nashville School Board was based on hearsay—not fact,” said attorney Stephen Zraleck. “And the facts, as presented in sworn affidavits, demonstrate that Stand followed both the letter and the spirit of state campaign finance law.”

But those who filed the complaint hailed the decision as a dark day for fair and transparent elections.

“It’s the old, ‘You’re going to believe me or your lying ears,’” said Gerard Stranch, who represented the consumer rights group Tennessee Citizen Action and a Nashville parent.  “They decided their ears are lying to them, and it’s very disappointing.”

In light of the Registry’s decision, Tennessee Citizen Action called on the Secretary of State’s Office to get involved.

“What’s the point of having the Registry of Election Finance if they are not going to hold political action committees and candidates accountable?” wrote director Andy Spears in a statement.