AG declines to opine on Harwell campaign finances

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has declined to answer questions submitted to his office by the executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance on the campaign finance, Drew Rawlins, about House Speaker Beth Harwell’s campaign finance tactics, reports The Tennessean.

Three complaints have been filed with the Registry of Election Finance alleging Harwell’s campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and her political action committee have violated state laws – charges that have been adamantly disputed.   Rawlins had requested an attorney general’s opinion answering five questions dealing with the circumstances outlined in the complaints. One complaint questions the validity of a $3.1 million loan Harwell made to her campaign. The other two allege she illegally coordinated with the PAC in sponsoring a TV commercial and direct mail promoting her. All are scheduled to be discussed at a Monday meeting of the Registry board.

The attorney general’s office responded to Rawlins’ request on May 1, saying “the questions posed…could be the subject of potential litigation and that this office might be called upon to participate in that litigation.”

“Consequently, we must respectfully decline to issue an opinion in response to your request.”

The attorney general frequently provides opinions upon request from the legislature, including on issues that could potentially result in legal action.  

…Austin McMullen, who previously said he was representing Harwell and the PAC, called for the complaints to be dismissed. In a May 7 email and letter to the registry, McMullen argued a complaint that raised doubts over a $3.1 million loan Harwell made to her campaign was merely a “fishing expedition.”McMullen said the other two complaints should be dismissed because a mailed ad and TV ad paid for by the PAC did not expressly advocate for a candidate. 

…Campaign finance records for Harwell and the PAC, known as Tennesseans for Good State Government, paid an Ohio-based company on the same day for “communications” and “video/production,” respectively.

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