staw donations

Kelsey denies wrongdoing in straw donor investigation

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

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) is denying any wrongdoing related to questions raised about fundraising practices surrounding his failed 2016 bid for Congress.

The Tennessee Journal reported last week that the Department of Justice has been speaking to state lawmakers about donations made to Kelsey’s federal campaign after receiving contributions from his state account.

As first reported in 2017 by The Tennessean (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.

“I am humbled that my congressional campaign received donations from roughly sixty of my colleagues, the overwhelming majority of whom never received a dime from Red State PAC or my re-election committee,” Kelsey said in a statement issued to the Daily Memphian.

“Both before and after those contributions were made, Red State PAC and my re-election committee donated to conservative candidates based on independent criteria including whether the candidate had a competitive race or had demonstrated political courage and leadership. I welcome any investigation because all donations were made in compliance with the law and on the advice of counsel,” he said.