campaign finance

Former Senate speaker among those interviewed by feds in Brian Kelsey probe

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, attends a Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville on April 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is among officials interviews by federal officials investigating fundraising related to state Sen. Brian Kelsey’s failed 2016 congressional bid, The Tennessean reports.

That Kelsey’s campaign money matters are under the federal microscope has been known since this spring. But the newspapers Joel Ebert is first to reveal some of the name of who agents have contacted in the matter.

Ramsey told the paper he was interviewed by an FBI agent in May or June.

“They wanted to subpoena me to appear before a grand jury,” Ramsey said.

Also interviewed was Nashville Councilman Steve Glover, who gave money to Kelsey’s federal PAC during a 2016 after receiving money from the senator’s federal PAC.

“They just had several questions about several things,” Glover said in a phone interview. “I just didn’t have much to share.”

Agents also flew in from Washington in August or September to interview a current lawmaker, whom the paper did not identify in its report.

Candidates are prohibited from using money raised for state races in federal campaigns. As The Tennessean reported in 2017 (and
later augmented by a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission), Kelsey’s state committee, Red State PAC, gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to fellow state lawmakers, who then turned around and gave donations to his congressional account.

The former state Senate Judiciary chairman also had more than $100,000 from his state account transferred to the Standard Club PAC, which then gave money to the American Conservative Union — both directly and through another committee run by conservative businessman Andy Miller Jr. The national group then made independent expenditures on Kelsey’s behalf.

The American Conservative Union’s director of government affairs at the time was the former Amanda Bunning. She and Kelsey married in January 2018.

Kelsey has denied any wrongdoing.

Former GOP executive committee member indicted

Kelsey Ketron, a former member of the executive committee of the Tennessee Republican Party and daughter of Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, has been indicted.

The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro reports Kelsey Ketron was arrested on three sealed indictments (UPDATE: the indictments were later unsealed. See below). She was being held a $100,000 bond at the Rutherford County jail on Tuesday.

Ketron has been the subject of an investigation into allegations of insurance fraud. State and federal agents raided her home and her father’s insurance company in July. The mayor told the newspaper at the time he was shocked by the warrants. Bill Ketron is facing an audit into his campaign finance filings. His daughter was his PACs’ treasurer.

Ketron was the state Senate Republican Caucus chairman before he was elected mayor. Kelsey Ketron resigned from the GOP’s executive committee in late July.

UPDATE: 

Kelsey Ketron faces dozens of charges, according to the Daily News Journal. They are:

  • 30 counts of impersonating a licensed professional.
  • 14 counts of money laundering.
  • 12 counts of aggravated perjury.
  • 5 counts of fraudulent insurance acts of $250,000 or more.
  • 5 counts of forgery of $250,000 or more.
  • two counts of fraudulent insurance acts between $60,000-$250,000.
  • one count of a fraudulent insurance act between $10,000-$59,999.
  • one count of theft of property between $10,000-$60,000.
  • one count of theft of property $60,000-$250,000.

Judge slashes Jeremy Durham’s campaign finance fines by 75%

A judge has slashed ousted state Rep. Jeremy Durham’s record campaign fine by 75%, The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports.

The Franklin Republican had been hit with $465,000 in fines in 2017 for a series of violations. Administrative Law Judge Steve Darnell in a ruling dated Friday that Durham should instead have to pay $110,000 in fines.

The Registry of Campaign Finance does not have have an “an unbridled right to dole out civil penalties,” Darnell worte. The panel had not proven that Durham had spent money on items like sunglasses and drycleaning in an inappropriate way. The judge also said campaign money the former lawmaker spent on his handgun carry permit and continuing legal education could have been considered legitimate expenditures.

Darnell also found nothing wrong with Durham’s investment of $100,000 in campaign funds into a company owned by conservative donor Andy Miller Jr. or a $30,000 loan to a professional gambler. The legislature only subsequently banned that sort of spending of campaign funds, the judge said.

The House voted 70-2 in 2016 to expel Durham after a state attorney general’s investigation detailed allegations of serial sexual misconduct.

4 former lawmakers among 6 finalists to lead ethics and campaign finance panel

The Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance has whittled down the applications to succeed retiring Executive Director Drew Rawlins from 43 to six. The finalists include four former lawmakers, a former judge, and a current staffer.

The finalists are scheduled to be interviewed over the course of three weeks starting on July 8. Here’s who made the cut:

  • Former Rep. Jerome Cochran, a Republican who lost to former House Speaker Kent Williams (I-Elizabethton) three times in as as many election cycles. Cochran is now an administrative law judge.
  • Former Rep. Mark Goins, a Republican who ran twice for the Senate — losing to former Democratic Sen. Tommy Kilby (D-Wartburg) — after being drawn out of his House seat in redistricting. Goins is the state election coordinator under Secretary of State Tre Hargett.
  • Former Rep. Judd Matheny, who came in third in a bid for the Republican nomination in his bid for 6th Congressional District seat last year.
  • Former Rep. Kim McMillan, the former House Democratic leader who lost her re-election bid as Clarksville mayor to former Rep. Joe Pitts.
  • Jay Moeck, the current audit director of the bureau.
  • Former Nashville Chancellor Bill Young, a onetime counsel for Blue Cross General Counsel and twice a top attorney for the state Attorney General’s Office.

The selection will be made by the members of the Ethics Commission and the Registry of Election Finance. Both panels are evenly divided along party lines. As the only Democratic finalist, McMillan appears to have an advantage if the Republicans split the vote. Of course, Republicans could coalesce behind a single finalist, at which point there could be an impasse.

Lawmakers spend campaign funds on travel, cigar bars

State lawmakers spent campaign cash on items ranging from cigar bars to hotels in France, according to an analysis by The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert.

Ebert reports Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) spent more than $1,000 to stay at hotels in Paris and Verdun during a a visit to France for the 100th anniversary of Sgt. Alvin York’s heroic deeds during World War I. Campaign funds also paid for Bailey’s $900 flight.

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) and Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) used campaign funds to cover expenses at cigar bars. A Hill spokesman said the $110 he expensed at a cigar lounge in Johnson City was a “reporting error,” and that he planned to reimburse his account. A Staples spokesman said the lawmaker spent the money during “constituent appreciation” events at the cigar bar in Nashville.

Sen. Steve Southerland (R-Morristown) dropped about $28,300 to buy a car from Lee Beaman’s dealership. He also used campaign finds to cover the cost of car washes and license plate fees.

“He utilizes the automobile to travel to the Capitol on official state business, which is allowable under state law,” a spokeswoman for Southerland told The Tennessean.

Read more of Ebert’s reports about lawmaker spending habits and problems with disclosures.

 

Campaign finance registry dismisses complaints against Harwell, Lee

House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address in Nashville on Jan. 29, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Associated Press)

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance has dismissed complaints filed against House Speaker Beth Harwell’s gubernatorial bid. The complaints alleged illegal coordination between Harwell and her political action committee, and questioned whether she actually had the $3.1 million she reported loaning her campaign earlier this year.

UPDATE: The Registry also dismissed coordination complaints against Bill Lee, the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Hank Fincher, a Democratic appointee to the panel, called the complaints against Harwell “garbage” and made the motion to dismiss them. The motion received a 4-0 vote.

Harwell came in fourth in the Republican gubernatorial primary this month.

FEC dismisses complaints against Burchett and Matlock in 2nd Congressional District campaign

The Federal Election Commission has dismissed complaints filed against Tim Burchett and Jimmy Matlock, competiting candidates in the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary, reports the News Sentinel.

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Campaign finance complaint against Mae Beavers dismissed

The Registry of Election Finance board has unanimously voted to dismiss a complaint that accused former state Sen. Mae Beavers of violating campaign finance laws in the handling of leftover money from her abandoned gubernatorial campaign, reports Tennessee Star. Beavers said the complaint was “politically motivated.”

She had used $122,123 from her gubernatorial campaign to launch a new political action committee, which then donated $7,800 to current campaign for Wilson County mayor – a donation she subsequently refunded after it was initially disclosed.

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Lee accused of campaign finance violations; spokesman calls complaint ‘nonsense’

Williamson County businessman Bill Lee is accused in a recently-filed complaint of violating various laws in the financing of his campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, reports The Tennessean. A spokesman for the candidate calls the complaint “nonsense” and the newspaper notes there are a couple of apparent factual errors that might prompt the Registry of Election Finance to dismiss it.

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Briley raises more money in Nashville mayor’s race than all other candidates combined

Nashville Mayor David Briley, who holds the position on an interim basis, has raised more money than all other candidates in Thursday’s mayor election combined, reports The Tennessean.

His total: $720,200, including $317,315 raised over the past six weeks. No. 2 in fundraising was Carol Swain, a former Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain and a conservative commentator, at $115,560.

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