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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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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Durham disputes campaign finance violations, criticizes state law

In a formal response to a Registry of Election Finance audit that found 690 potential violations of state campaign finance laws by former Rep. Jeremy Durham, the ex-legislator’s lawyer, Peter Strianse, and unnamed advisors offer explanations for some matters, generally deny any wrongdoing and criticize the laws involved.

WSMV has text of the document HERE. The Tennessean has a more lengthy narrative report on the 235-page response. An excerpt:

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Top TN donor to Trump inauguration a longtime Democrat?

President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee reports raising more than $107 million for January swearing-in events, more than double the amount raised for any previous president’s inauguration. Prior presidents put limits on inaugural donations. Trump did not.

Nationally, the top donor was casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon G. Adelson with a $5 million contribution, reports the New York Times. The biggest donation from Tennessee was $1 million sent by a Chattanooga company linked to veteran Democratic donor Franklin Haney.

Excerpt from the Center for Public Integrity’s review of the disclosure:

A few of the big-dollar donors listed were obscure limited liability companies, the leaders of which weren’t easily deciphered.

One such Trump inauguration donor, HFNWA LLC of Chattanooga, Tennessee, gave $1 million. The Center for Public Integrity previously reported that HFNWA LLC gave Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC $1 million in 2014. HFNWA LLC has addresses in Arkansas and Washington, D.C., and is managed, according to Arkansas Secretary of State records, by Franklin L. Haney, a Democratic political patron and real estate mogul.

Memphis-based Federal Express chipped in just over $500,000, according to the disclosure document. If you add things up, as did Nashville Post Politics, there was an overall like donation from the Knoxville-based Haslam family and its business operations.

Combined, Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam and his wife, television CEO Dee Haslam, contributed $200,000. Pilot itself donated $300,000 to the effort. Gov. Bill Haslam, brother to Jimmy Haslam and a fellow heir to the Pilot fortune, was notably non-supportive of Trump during the campaign, going so far as to call on Trump to step aside during the last month of the campaign.

CCA of Tennessee gave $250,000.

Note: If you want to wade through the full report, it’s HERE.