Complaint accuses Harwell of violating campaign finance laws with TV ad and loan

On the heels of a new television advertisement sponsored by her PAC, House Speaker Beth Harwell has been hit with two ethics complaints filed with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance regarding her campaign for governor, reports Cari Wade Gervin. One alleges illegal coordination with the PAC in violation of state campaign finance law.

Both complaints were filed by Sharon Ford of Nashville, the president of the tea party group Tennessee Republican Assembly. Her sole donation to date in the gubernatorial race has been $30 to former state Sen. Mae Beavers, who has since dropped out of the race.

In the first complaint, Ford alleges that Harwell’s self-edorsed $3.1 million loan as reported on her most recent campaign finance filing does not have the liquid assets earmarked to back it up. 

“The loan amount of $3.1 million was the exact figure she needed to loan to get to $5 million cash on hand as listed on her disclosure. Without the loan, Harwell’s cash on hand balance would have been $1.95 million — a paltry sum by comparison,” Ford writes. “I find it hard to believe that Harwell is able to financially back — with liquid assets — a cash loan or line of credit available to her campaign equal to ten times her average income over the previous five years.”

The second complaint, however, is somewhat less speculative. Ford cites numerous instances that appear to imply Harwell the candidate has coordinated with her PAC in an allegedly illegal manner. Formerly named Harwell PAC, the Tennesseans for Good State Government PAC has sent mailers out touting Harwell’s accomplishments as Speaker, which direct recipients to a website to learn more, 

That website — which is not the same as her campaign website, —  makes no mention that Harwell is running for governor. But both sites use the same fonts, similar language, and photos that, if not exactly the same, are clearly from the same photo shoot. The PAC’s website lists Harwell’s legislative office phone number, email and address as contact info for the site, but it does not include a properly worded “paid for by” disclaimer describing it as either an authorized expenditure approved by the candidate or as an independent expenditure not authorized by any candidate.

“The recipient is led to believe Harwell’s PAC expenditure is authorized by the candidate since it includes a personal letter from Beth Harwell and her signature, making it an in-kind contribution to her campaign,” Ford writes about the mailer. “It is clear that the content was provided in coordination with and authorized by a clearly identified candidate, Beth Harwell.”

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