Ex-girlfriend testifies Cothren had her register PAC that attacked Casada foe Tillis

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony ouside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tenenssee Journal)

In remarkable sworn testimony to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on Thursday, the treasurer of a mysterious political action committee testified she had registered the outfit at the behest of her then-boyfriend, Cade Cothren, and had nothing further to do with it thereafter.

“I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him,” said Sydney Friedopfer, a former Vanderbilt student who now lives in Utah. “And he said no. And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through.”

The Family Faith Freedom Fund PAC was involved in attacking then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg), a foe of Cothren and his former boss, House Speaker Glen Casada, in the 2020 primary won by now-Rep. Todd Warner. (Just as a reminder, Cothren, Casada, Warner, and Rep. Robin Smith had their homes and offices searched by the FBI around this time last year).

Here is a transcript of Friedopfer’s testimony to the Registry on Thursday. The other speakers are Registry chair Paige Burcham Dennis, general counsel Lauren Topping, executive director Bill Young, and members Tom Lawless, David Golden, and Hank Fincher.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Miss Sydney, are you on the phone today?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, I am.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, before we get to you. I want to remind you, we’re going to have Lauren, give us a little bit of background on the Faith Family Freedom Fund case. But I do want to remind you that you are under oath today even though you’re participating by phone.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK, yep, no problem.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. Lauren, can you give the Registry a little bit of background on what’s going on with the Faith Family Freedom Fund case?

Lauren Topping: So as you’ll recall, this case came about as a result of a complaint that was filed with the Registry. As a result of that, there was an audit that was ordered. Up until this point in time, we had been unable to reach Ms. Friedopfer. And so the audit report basically says that we were unable to obtain any information. I think that’s all in your packet. But since then, we have been able to contact her and so she is here on the line today to tell you what she knows. So that’s kind of where we are.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, so at this time, Sydney, I understand you’re in Utah. Is that correct?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, that’s correct.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. I’m Chairman Burcham Dennis, and we’re going to let you tell us what you would like to tell us concerning the case.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK. So I guess I don’t have the exact date, sometime in end of 2019, early 2020. I had a friend of mine that I met when I was back at Vanderbilt ask me to open a political action committee for him. I was advised that I should tell you the name. The name is Cade Cothren. And I trusted him.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Could you repeat that? His name was what?

Sydney Friedopfer: Cade Cothren.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK.

Sydney Friedopfer: Being a 22, 23-year-old at the time, I, unfortunately, did not have any information about politics. I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him. And he said no. And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through, which I’m sure everyone’s aware. But yeah, he resigned from his position as chief of staff to Glen Casada. And he didn’t want his name on the political action committees. Like being young and dumb, honestly, regarding this, I –

Paige Burcham Dennis: So Sydney, you had an involvement, a relationship or friendship, with him. And he asked you to do this on his behalf. That’s what you’re saying?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes. I mean, yeah. At the time, I thought I loved him, I guess. But I was young and he’s 10 years older than me. And I trusted him. And so I opened the political action committee for him. And I filed the papers, signed my name, and that was the last I heard of it. I received the e-filing thing in the mail. And I just sent him a picture of that. And he took over from there. And I didn’t hear about it again until a reporter started calling me. But the first time I had anyone call me from a reputable source that I was going to talk to was when Lauren called me a few weeks ago.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, so let me ask you this. I am showing in the audit, that there were some expenditures made from this particular political action committee. Were you aware of those expenditures in any way?

Sydney Friedopfer: No.

Paige Burcham Dennis: But you were also the treasurer, correct?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, I signed my name as treasurer. But once I did that, I never saw it again.

Paige Burcham Dennis: What was your name on a checking account or able to dispose the funds?

Sydney Friedopfer: It shouldn’t be. I hope not.

Paige Burcham Dennis: So you were the treasurer, you open the PAC. The money was dispersed, but your name was not on the checking account. And you had no knowledge of the disbursement that Mr. Cade was doing from the account?

Sydney Friedopfer: Correct. I didn’t know what a political action committee really was. I didn’t know it had anything to do with expenditures or bank accounts or anything. I guess I should have known when I signed my name is treasurer, but I thought it was really just people that support candidates, rallies, stuff like that.

Paige Burcham Dennis: What you’re saying was you did this? And I understand you’re young. We’ve all been there. I wish I was young again, too. I remember a few things in my early 20s. But I guess what I’m saying to you is, do you now understand what a political action committee is? And did you receive any of the — Lauren, did she receive any of the filings or none of the letters because we couldn’t find her, right?

Lauren Topping: No, most of the letters she did not receive until I was able to reach her a couple of weeks ago. And I sent them all to her by email. So she does have them now.

Bill Young: And I think she did. This is Bill Young, executive director, and she can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I reached out to her by email. I was able to get her email address, and she did respond to a couple of emails I sent.

Sydney Friedopfer: Oh, I don’t recall that. I could check my email. I didn’t respond to anyone about this situation ever until Lauren called me.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Were you familiar with the $7,000 expenditures made? Expenses paid to PostNet and other advertising expenditures made from the political action committee account at all? And if so when did you become aware of that?

Sydney Friedopfer: No. Well, I was never aware of the exact dollar amount. I was aware that there were some sketchy things going on when I was called in July 2020 by a few reporters. And now my name is on the internet because of it. So I knew there was something going on. And I reached out to Cade at that time, and he told me nothing was going on, and that it was just the media. And I believed him again. So.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Oh, so wait, wait just a second. Let me — and I’m going to get you, Lawless.

Tom Lawless: I’m not gonna ask a question. Do we need to accept the audit first?

Paige Burcham Dennis: Yeah. Let’s have a vote to accept the audit.

Tom Lawless: Make the motion to accept it.

Paige Burcham Dennis: All in favor? Audit approved. So here’s my next question. You said Mr. Cade reached out to you again, when was the last time you had contact with him?

Sydney Friedopfer: I would say last month, when Lauren called me. She left a voicemail and I called him back and I said, ‘I need to call them back.’ And he said, ‘no you don’t, they don’t have any authority.’ And I said, ‘I have to do what I have to do.’ And he said, ‘OK.’ And that was the last I talked to him.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Are you aware, as the duly appointed treasurer of this PAC, that you’re personally liable for the civil civil penalties?

Sydney Friedopfer: I mean, I know that now, but I didn’t know that at the time. He told me that none of this was illegal, that he didn’t do anything illegal, and that it was no big deal to open the political action committee.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, I’m gonna have Lauren ask you a question.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK.

Lauren Topping: Were you aware that the PAC had a Gmail account? I think it was faithfamilyfreedomfund@gmail.com?

Sydney Friedopfer: No.

Lauren Topping: Did you ever? So you’re saying you weren’t aware of it? That means that you weren’t ever, you didn’t ever access that email account? Is that right?

Sydney Friedopfer: No, never.

Lauren Topping: OK. So I think, Bill, the conversations that you had back in the summer, were with that email account. And presumably, based on this, someone responded as if they were Syndey.

Paige Burcham Dennis: But someone was responding. Acting like they were her.

Bill Young: That’s correct. And again, I sent it to the email account we had, and I have the responses. I think there were a couple responses I received,

Sydney Friedopfer: That was not me.

Paige Burcham Dennis: At this time, I would like to ask the Registry. I feel like we need to reopen this audit.

Tom Lawless: I’ll make that motion. Madam Chair.

David Golden: I will second.

Paige Burcham Dennis: All those in favor of reopening the audit? Do we need roll call roll call? No. Sydney, I really want to tell you, thank you for your cooperation, your participation, and being so upfront with us about this.

Sydney Friedopfer: No problem. I wish I could help more.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Well, you may be asked to help more.

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, I know. I just wish I had more information about it.

Paige Burcham Dennis: What’s concerning to me is that someone was responding to you to a Gmail account with our executive director, also pretending to be you and you were unaware.

Hank Fincher: Madam Chair, can I be recognized at some point?

Paige Burcham Dennis: Yes

Hank Fincher: OK. I would recommend that we issue a subpoena with a duces tecum component to this Mr. Cothren and haul him in for questioning. And also for all the records he’s got related to this. Clearly, he’s a key link and the next one up the chain. I don’t know how to get him. But I don’t want there to be any delays. I don’t know that we need a formal action by the board to issue a subpoena. But if we do, I would so move.

Tom Lawless: Second.

Paige Burcham Dennis: We have a second. All those in favor say aye. We need to do a roll call on the subpoena. [Approved unanimously.] Thank you so much again, for your cooperation.

Hank Fincher: Hold up. One more: Could we ask if there’s anybody else that she knows that that’s involved in this other than Mr. Cothren?

Paige Burcham Dennis: Could you respond to that for us?

Sydney Friedopfer: I do not. I have only ever communicated with Mr. Cothren.

Paige Burcham Dennis: So just to recap the conversation today, you open the political action committee for a guy that you were in love with, at the time, had a relationship with, named Cade Cothren. And you did nothing else and heard nothing else until Lauren contacted you. And we were able to find you in Utah. And then we approved your participation today. And all the responses that were done from the Gmail account that were pretended to be you, were not actually you?

Sydney Friedopfer: That’s correct. Yes. Only only and the only other thing I heard about it between opening it and Lauren calling me was when the media was calling me.

Paige Burcham Dennis: And you also received a call or had communication with Mr. Cade, who told you not to worry about this?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, he told me that you don’t have any authority over me and that nothing can happen.

Paige Burcham Dennis: That the Registry had no authoirty over this political action committee?

Sydney Friedopfer: No, he said over me personally. He said that no action could be taken against me in a court of law.

Hank Fincher: Madam Chair, a couple questions for — I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t have your name in front of me and I’m over 50. But for the nice lady talking to us and telling us what went on, do you have any text messages, emails, phone records, anything that you could provide to us to corroborate these calls, dates, times, and particularly anything with regard to the establishment or the operation of this PAC? And these conversations you’re telling us about? If you have that? Could you provide that first? First, do you have it and and could you provide it?

Sydney Friedopfer: I wish that I did, but I do not. I deleted all of my text messages with him. Because I was very mad at him for my name being all over the internet regarding these political action committees.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Well, Sydney, thank you so much. I think it’s our duty to do what we have done today. Not just for the public, but for what we stand for. And I understand your situation.

Tom Lawless: Ma’am. Thank you. For your questions. Ma’am. This is Tom Lawless. And I also want to thank you for what you’ve done and and said today. And I just again, want to reiterate, you understand that the comments you’ve made have been under oath, under penalty of perjury.

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes. They are all true.

Tom Lawless: OK. And I’m not questioning that. I’m just doing it to make sure there’s clarification in the records. Do you remember opening an account anywhere at any financial institution?

Sydney Friedopfer: No. I have not opened any accounts.

Tom Lawless: OK. So you don’t recall ever signing signature cards or depositor agreements or any of those types of items?

Sydney Friedopfer: No. I don’t remember. I don’t think that I would have ever done that. Not even for Cade.

Tom Lawless: OK. OK. And if perchance you did, you have no objection to any disclosure under any federal or state statute to those records being submitted to this board for review and its auditors?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, that’s right.

Tom Lawless: OK. You’re an open book as far as this goes?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, I am an open book. I have nothing to hide. And I honestly just want it to go away.

Tom Lawless: Understand and candid with you. I don’t think any of us on this board want to be —

Paige Burcham Dennis: But I have one more question for you. The PAC contributions were primarily made from one gentleman named Brandon Crawford. Do you know Mr. Crawford, or have you ever been aware of Mr. Crawford?

Sydney Friedopfer: No, I’ve never heard that name.

Paige Burcham Dennis: And we understand that the financial disclosure statements indicate the PAC sent out multiple mailers over the course of several months for House District race 92. Are you familiar with that at all?

Sydney Friedopfer: I have seen an article about it because my name was in it. But I don’t know much about it other than the attack ads or something that were sent out. But I had nothing to do with it. I just know about it because I was called by a reporter about it.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Thank you so much, Sydney. Anyone else have questions for Sydney today? Thank you for your cooperation. We really appreciate your honesty.

Sydney Friedopfer: Yeah, of course. Let me know if you need anything else from me.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Will you make yourself available again to us?

Sydney Friedopfer: Of course. Yeah, whatever you need. Thank you.

Bill Young: You don’t need to stay on the line. Unless there are further questions, but Ms. Topping from our office will be back in touch with you soon.

Sydney Friedopfer: Perfect. Thank you so much.

Tom Lawless: Thank you, ma’am. Thank you for your cooperation.

Sydney Friedopfer: Bye-bye.

Tom Lawless: Well, that was interesting.

Paige Burcham Dennis: That was interesting.

Tom Lawless: We need to have a special meeting.