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NYT: Hagerty didn’t disclose Romney donation before returning it

Bill Hagerty attends the Tennessee Republican Party’s Statesmen’s Dinner in Nashville on June 15, 2019. At right is U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A New York Times setup piece on the U.S. Senate primary election in Tennessee includes an interesting tidbit about how Republican Bill Hagerty’s campaign quietly returned a $5,600 donation from former political mentor Mitt Romney after first depositing it. The Hagerty camp didn’t include the deposit or the refund in its disclosures, a possible violation of campaign finance rules.

According to the Times:

The day after Mr. Hagerty announced his candidacy in September, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission, Mr. Romney’s Believe in America PAC contributed the maximum allowed amount to Mr. Hagerty’s campaign — $5,600. Bank records indicate that Mr. Hagerty’s campaign deposited the check. But in October, Mr. Hagerty surprised Mr. Romney by quietly returning the donation in full.

(Neither the PAC’s contribution nor Mr. Hagerty’s disbursement of the refund appears in the Hagerty campaign’s filings, a potential violation of campaign finance law. A spokesman for the Hagerty campaign said, “Once we realized it was deposited, we alerted the bank and we reversed the transaction, because we do not share Senator Romney’s liberal, anti-Trump political positions.”)

Rival Republican candidate Manny Sethi, of course, has been hammering Hagerty for his past association with Romney, who is seen as a pariah to many Republicans now for voting to convict President Donald Trump for abuse of power during last year’s impeachment.

Here’s the NYT’s main takeaway from the race:

Thursday’s election stands to lay bare whether Mr. Sethi’s attempts to cast Mr. Hagerty as a pawn of the establishment are enough to outweigh Mr. Trump’s endorsement; it will also indicate whether a Senate campaign, absent any other message, can succeed on that endorsement alone.

Big outside money flows into Senate, 1st District races

While Bill Hagerty’s and Manny Sethi’s campaigns slog it out against each other, a series of outside committees are also spending heavily in hopes of influencing the outcome of the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

The biggest player among them has been the Protect Freedom PAC, a group linked to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has endorsed Sethi. The PAC has spent $1.47 million on ads backing the Sethi. Another group called Conservative Outsiders’ PAC has spent $1 million attacking Hagerty.

Meanwhile, a super PAC called Standing with Conservatives has poured $1.3 million into the race, nearly all of it to oppose Sethi. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s America One PAC has spent another $375,000 to oppose Sethi. The Arkansas Republican is backing Hagerty.

The primary to decide the Republican nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) is also experiencing heavy independent expenditures. The Club for Growth, which has endorsed state Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), has spent $945,000 so far. About $425,000 has gone toward ads supporting Hill, while the rest has gone toward attacking GOP rivals Diana Harshbarger ($366,000), Rusty Crowe ($132,000), and Josh Gapp ($22,164).

The House Freedom Fund has kicked in $16,000 to support Hill and the delightfully named Bless Your Heart Coalition has spent $15,000 to oppose Harshbarger.

Democratic congressional candidate denies defrauding Catholic group

A candidate for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg) is denying allegations he defrauded a progressive Catholic organization for which he once served as executive director.

Christopher Hale, who once ran the Washington-based Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, told the Catholic News Agency “the idea that I drove the organization into bankruptcy or defrauded it is just fundamentally not true. I kept the organization going.”

The comments were in response to allegations made by James Salt, a former board member, who said Hale “did a great disservice to everyone who has worked with him.”

Salt says Hale misled the board about financial records and once falsely told colleagues he was having surgery as a reason for missing work. Hale was fired in 2017 and the group was dissolved, Salt said, but not before allegedly making off with the organization’s mailing and donor lists he later used to start a new initiative called The Francis Project.

Hale told CNA he was not fired, but rather left on good terms to pursue “different adventures in life.”

Hale faces Noelle Bivens in Thursday’s Democratic primary.

See the full account here.

American Conservative Union endorses Hagerty

Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty attends a CPAC conference in Memphis on Oct. 27, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The American Conservative Union, the group known for putting on the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), is endorsing Bill Hagerty in Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race.

Hagerty spoke at a regional CPAC meeting in Memphis in October 2019. Rival Republican candidate Manny Sethi was also part of the program at the event, though his speaking slot was pushed back to late in the afternoon to accommodate an appearance by My Pillow founder Michael Lindel.

The American Conservative Union in 2018 endorsed U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) in her unsuccessful bid for the gubernatorial nomination.

Here is the release endorsing Hagerty:

Alexandria, VA – The American Conservative Union (ACU) today announced its endorsement of Bill Hagerty for election in Tennessee to the United States Senate.

“In Tennessee the race to become the next U.S. Senator has come down to a choice between two candidates with conservative policy positions, but for ACU the choice is clear. We know from personal experience the impact that Bill Hagerty has had advancing conservative successes,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “Ambassador Hagerty served effectively under President Trump as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, and in that role helped shape the aggressive approach that the United States has taken over the last few years holding China more accountable on trade, national security, and human rights. The Ambassador directly assisted our efforts on CPAC Japan and helps our efforts to combat communism in Asia. Ambassador Hagerty’s accomplished record is not just one of working overseas to advance conservatism, but also here at home. He led the Trump transition team and created the single most conservative cabinet in U.S. history. We have worked with Bill Hagerty for years and in that time we have seen him as an effective leader and we know that he can do the same in Congress. That’s why we are endorsing him to be Tennessee’s next Senator.”

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Winners and losers in the General Assembly’s fundraising sweepstakes

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The final fundraising disclosures are in before Thursday’s primary election. We’ve dug through the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance disclosures to aggregate how much each candidate for the House and Senate has raised so far through this election cycle.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) leads the way with $359,200, followed by freshman Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) with $290,700. Sen. Paul Rose (R-Covington) is next on the list with $226,500, though his numbers are a bit inflated by having stood for a special election during the cycle.

On the other end of the spectrum are incumbents who have raised the least. They are Reps. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) with $2,900, Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) with $3,900, and former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) with $6,450.

These totals are for candidates only, meaning they don’t include any of their political action committees.

A couple caveats about the way the Registry keeps these numbers: They include outside donations and direct contributions from the candidates themselves, but not loans. For example, while Rep. Rick Tillis’ challenger Todd Warner in District 92 is listed as raising $2,950, that figure doesn’t include the eye-popping $127,100 he has loaned himself. The figures also don’t include unitemized contributions, which for some candidates can be substantial.

So with all that being said, the full list follows. Challengers and candidates in open races are listed in italics.

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Early voting down 8% compared with 2018 primary

Early voting was down 8% compared with Tennessee’s 2018 primary election featuring a heated governor’s race and another open U.S. Senate seat.

Republican voting was down 11%, while Democratic turnout was up 2%. GOP voters still showed up in far greater numbers than Democrats, 354,600 to 215,790.

Only 21 counties saw increases in Republican early voting, led by a 63% growth in Washington County in the heart of the 1st Congressional District, where 16 Republicans are vying to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City). Other counties in the district posing GOP gains included Unicoi (21%), Sullivan (14%), Sevier (11%), and Grainger (8%). Turnout decreased in the district’s remaining counties: Jefferson (-9%), Hamblen (-13%), Greene (-21%), Johnson (-23%), Hancock (-28%), and Cocke (-30%).

Democratic turnout saw its biggest boost in Davidson County, where early voting was up 53% compared with two years ago. Knox County also saw a Democratic gain of 29%, while GOP turnout dropped 10%. In Hamilton County, Democrats saw a 24% increase but Republican turnout also grew 19%.

In Shelby County, which usually accounts for the state’s largest turnout for both parties, Democratic early voting was down 4%, while GOP balloting cratered by 25%.

The full early voting list by county compared with the 2018 primary follows below.

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Here’s how much federal relief money is flowing to Tennessee counties

The Senate meets in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A total of $13 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money is flowing to Tennessee, and a new interactive state website allows users to break down how much is headed specific counties.

In a meeting of the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group on Monday, Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) asked whether the amounts can be broken out on a per-capita basis to ensure smaller counties weren’t getting less than the likes of Metro Nashville and Shelby County. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration didn’t have those figures at their fingertips, so the Tennessee Journal has crunched the numbers. Here are the top 10 per-capita recipients of federal aid (Anderson County, where McNally lives, comes in at No. 12):

  1. Jackson, $7,126
  2. Cheatham, $4,363
  3. Davidson, $3,931
  4. Carroll, $3,380
  5. Smith, 3,738
  6. Fayette, $3,525
  7. Cannon, $3,056
  8. Carter, $2,643
  9. Giles, $2,643
  10. Bledsoe, $2,557

The full per-capita breakdown follows:

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Lee calling lawmakers into special session next week

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to call lawmakers into a special session to take up bills to provide legal immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits, establish reimbursement rates for telemedicine appointments, and increase penalties for property damaged in protests, The Tennessee Journal has learned. Similar measures fell apart among inter-chamber discord during the final hours of the regular session in June.

It could turn out to be a bit of a lame duck session for incumbents who aren’t running again and those who lose their primaries on Thursday (if any). They remain in office until the November general election.

UPDATE: The official announcement follows.

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Trump says he’s firing TVA chairman over executive pay, outsourcing

President Donald Trump said he’s firing the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority over the compensation package of the public utility’s CEO and moves to outsource IT jobs.

The Associated Press reports Trump told reporters at the White House he was removing the authority’s chair of the board and another member of the board, while threatening to remove other directors if they keep hiring foreign labor.

“Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board. If you betray American workers, then you will hear two simple words ‘you’re fired,” Trump said.

The TVA chairman is James “Skip” Thompson of Decatur, Ala., one of four directors Trump appointed in his first year in office.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) in April pushed back against Trump’s attacks on TVA and Lyash.

“Attacking TVA doesn’t do one thing to solve the pandemic and has no place in federal COVID-19 response legislation. TVA does not receive one dollar in federal taxpayer subsidies or federal appropriations,” Alexander said.

The outsourcing of IT jobs became the subject of a TV ad campaign by the U.S. Tech Workers evidently seen by the president, who recently tweeted about the spot.

“Another one of many Fake T.V. ads, this one about the Tennessee Valley Authority, which for years has paid its top executive a ridiculous FORTUNE. Not run by the U.S., but I have long been fighting that crazy ‘salary’ & its policies,” Trump said in the tweet.

The leading Republican candidates for the Senate were quick to praise the president for his moves, though they focused on differing elements. Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi, who has spoken out against TVA compensation since this spring released the following statement:

President Trump was right to take action on the Tennessee Valley Authority. Our public utilities do not need overpaid bureaucrats and executives. I am grateful to see the President take these steps because it will hopefully help TVA move in the right direction- towards transparency and accountability.

Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty appeared more interested in the foreign workers element:

President Donald Trump is right, we can’t outsource American jobs at a time when our unemployment rate is higher than ever […] Our power grid is an integral component of our nation’s infrastructure and there are significant national security concerns associated with outsourcing any aspect of software or IT management to firms that may be foreign-owned, staffed or otherwise impacted. We need to put the American worker and our national security first.

Hagerty’s latest ad remarkable for what it doesn’t include (hint: it’s that guy who endorsed him)

Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty has spent much of his Senate bid hammering home the point that he has been endorsed by President Donald Trump —  a fact that’s been featured prominently on campaign signs and in TV and radio ads. But not in his latest one-minute spot, titled “What Makes America Exceptional.”

The ad features Hagerty talking to the camera about growing up raising livestock and working on road crews when he was in college. He then discusses his time as state economic and community development commissioner and as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

“No one loves this nation more than I do,” Hagerty concludes. “I want that same opportunity for your children and grandchildren, just like I want them for mine. That’s why I’m running for United States Senate.”

On the face of it, it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill biographical ad, the sort one might expect to run early in a campaign to introduce a candidate to the voters. But this ad comes with just three days remaining before the primary election after weeks of attack ads slamming his main rival for the nomination, Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi.

The last advertising push comes as Hagerty has tapped his line of credit by another $800,000 in recent days to bring his total debt to $3.3 million. Sethi has also gone back to his own checkbook, adding $300,000 to the $1.93 million he had previously loaned his campaign.

The transcript of Hagerty’s latest spot follows:

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