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.

Norris top legislator in collecting campaign dollars; Realtors PAC top donor

The Associated Press has tallied contributions to Tennessee legislative candidates so far this election cycle and reports a total of more than $16 million, including $1.5 million in the October reporting period.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, a Collierville Republican with no Democratic opponent this year, has quietly received the largest amount of campaign donations with $655,000 in receipts this election season.

Norris is among several potential gubernatorial candidates to succeed term-limited Haslam in 2018. Others include Republican Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville and House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville. Each has raised about $515,000.

The top 12 recipients are Republicans, combining for more than $5.3 million in donations.

Democrat Gloria Johnson has received about $233,000 for her bid to reclaim the Knoxville seat she lost to Republican Rep. Eddie Smith two years ago.

The Tennessee Relators PAC has been the top donor to Statehouse candidates, giving a total of $258,000. The next highest contributor was the Senate Republican Caucus with $233,000, followed by the Tennessee Bankers Association PAC with $230,000 and $177,000 from the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee.

Other big donation totals include $170,000 from the PAC of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union; $149,000 from the AT&T of Tennessee PAC and $134,000 from the Jack Daniel’s PAC.

Fincher financed attack ads in 8th District GOP primary

Financial disclosures show retiring U.S. Rep. Steve Fincher financed a late advertising attack against multi-millionaire George Flynn, who finished as runner-up to David Kustoff in the Republican primary for the 8th Congressional District seat Fincher is vacating, according to the Tennessee Journal.

Fincher’s latest filing with the Federal Election Commission shows that, on July 27, he gave $100,000 from his standing campaign account to Win for America PAC, the independent-expenditures-only committee that ran radio and TV ads bashing Flynn.

On the same day, Win for America reported in its latest disclosure spending $90,000 to produce an anti-Flynn TV commercial and buy time to run it on area television stations. A day earlier, TNJ reports, the PAC spent $38,000 to produce a radio ad and purchase air time to run it.

Fincher’s move invites speculation of a payback. Flinn opposed Fincher in 2010 and used his personal wealth to finance attack advertising against Fincher.

Jackson Baker suggests the late attack ads could have blocked Flinn from beating Fincher in the primary.

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

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