Hagerty-supporting PAC pushes back against Sethi’s effort to block ad

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi speaks at a campaign event in Clarksville on Feb. 4, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

An outside PAC supporting Bill Hagerty’s bid for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination is pushing back against rival Manny Sethi’s efforts to get TV stations to drop its ad.

Sethis’s lawyers this week called the ad by the Standing with Conservatives PAC “knowingly dishonest” for suggesting a $50 donation to Democratic congressional candidate in 2008 was linked to  online contribution processor ActBlue’s later support for Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid.

“The ability to criticize a public figure’s actions, and to discuss matters of public importance, lies at the heart of the First Amendment, as courts have repeatedly recognized,” Karen Blackistonea lawyer for Standing with Conservatives, wrote to station managers.

“The Candidate denies supporting ActBlue and asserts that ActBlue does not conduct any advocacy. Per ActBlue’s website, ActBlue is more than just a credit card processor. It is dedicated to empowering democratic and progressive liberal campaigns build their movements,” Blackistone wrote “ActBlue exclusively permits certain groups to use its services that shares similar liberal, progressive values.”

The ads were still on the air of as late this week.

The full letter from Standing with Conservatives follows.

Dear Station Managers:

Our firm is counsel to Standing with Conservatives (the “PAC”), an independent expenditure political action committee registered with the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”).  It has come to our attention that Dr. Manish “Manny” Sethi and his authorized candidate’s committee, Dr. Manny for US Senate, (the “Candidate”) has requested that your station cease and desist from broadcasting an advertisement paid for by the PAC, entitled “This One” (the “Advertisement”).

A request to cease airing a broadcast presents grave implications for upholding the First Amendment. Such a baseless decision by this station to cease airing the Advertisement would serve as an impediment and affront to our nation’s constitutional values.

The request made by the Candidate is baseless, and each statement contained in the Advertisement is substantiated, as demonstrated in Attachment 2, and raises important issues of public policy critical to this election.

Bizarrely, in his letter, the Candidate attempts to assert that his wife made a direct contribution to a “family friend running for office” and he denies himself making any contribution to either Perriello for Congress or ActBlue PAC. The basis, however, for the Candidate’s assertion falls flat in light of the publicly available report filed by ActBlue PAC (“ActBlue”) that is explicitly referenced within the Advertisement.

Further, the Candidate’s shifting defense here contradicts statements made by the Candidate himself and the Campaign. In fact, the Candidate represented that he made such donation even as recently as last week. His Campaign has stated that the Candidate gave the funds “to a friend of a friend.” Ironically, the Campaign Manager confirmed the Candidate donated to ActBlue. And then yesterday, after sending you a letter claiming his wife made the contribution, the Candidate again admitted that he made the contribution. Without more, it appears the Candidate and his Campaign are actually the ones struggling to tell the truth.

At the time that the Candidate (or his wife) made the contribution to ActBlue, he (or she) was required to make certain attestations, including his name, address, and employer/occupation information. Critically, the contributor was also required to affirm that the individual whose name is listed is the person making the contribution and that the funds used to make the contribution are drawn from an account legally owned by that person. Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) regulations require, and required in 2008, that all solicitations include this affirmation. To make a contribution in the name of another is a serious violation of federal law for which criminal penalties can, and have, been assessed.

A political committee’s treasurer is charged by the FEC, in the spirit of transparency, with the duty to obtain, maintain, and report correct information regarding its activity within a reporting period on publicly available campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. With respect to an earmarked contribution, ActBlue must disclose the name and mailing address of each contributor on its campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”). Thus, the general public, including the PAC, is entitled to rely on ActBlue’s campaign finance reports as a source of accurate information. In this case, those reports disclose “Manish Sethi” as the contributor, not his wife.

Second, the Candidate denies supporting ActBlue and asserts that ActBlue does not conduct any advocacy. Per ActBlue’s website, ActBlue is more than just a credit card processor. It is dedicated to empowering democratic and progressive liberal campaigns build their movements. ActBlue exclusively permits certain groups to use its services that shares similar liberal, progressive values. The very definition of “advocates” is defined as “one who supports . . . the interests of a cause or group.” Some PACs advocate for their favored policies by making contributions to candidates, others by making advertisements, still others by conducting rallies or door-to-door “get out the vote” efforts. The fact that ActBlue has developed, hosts, and promotes its platform exclusively for the use of liberal and progressive candidates and causes is just another form of “supporting the interests of a cause or group.”

Critically, the Advertisement contains accurate onscreen language explaining exactly who the Candidate contributed to and what that PAC did with those funds, stating “donation to ActBlue; earmark to Perriello for Congress” per the report. Bottom line, ActBlue is organized as a PAC. Its mission is to support liberal and progressive candidates and causes. The Candidate may attempt to argue technicalities, argue that the contribution was actually intended to support a candidate and not the PAC itself, but the facts presented in the Advertisement are true.

The ability to criticize a public figure’s actions, and to discuss matters of public importance, lies at the heart of the First Amendment, as courts have repeatedly recognized. As you know, the Federal Communications Commission has held that stations best meet their public interest obligations “by presenting contrasting views” and encouraging “robust, wide-open debate.” It has consistently rejected invitations by political figures to “judge the truth or falsity of material being broadcast on either side of a currently controversial issue.” If the Candidate would like to try to convince voters that it was his wife who made a contribution to ActBlue or that his contribution to ActBlue is excusable because it was earmarked for Perriello for Congress, he is welcome to purchase air time on your station to do so.

For all of the reasons articulated in this letter and documented in the attachments, the accuracy of this Advertisement is indisputable. We, therefore, respectfully request that you continue broadcasting this unquestionably accurate Advertisement. Thank you for your time.


Karen Blackistone, Counsel

Standing with Conservatives


16 Responses to Hagerty-supporting PAC pushes back against Sethi’s effort to block ad

  • Avatar
    Lance Persson says:

    The ad clearly contains multiple misleading statements. I find it so sad that Hagerty folks would put out such an ad that they know is so misleading. I consider it lying and deceitful when a group states their conclusions that they know are not not true. That is exactly what the Hagerty PAC is doing. We don’t need someone of that caliber in the Senate. If they lie and misrepresent the facts during the primary campaign, they will lie if elected. I encourage people to ignore these ads and get the facts from people they trust. My vote is certainly for SETHI. He is what he says he is.

    • Avatar
      Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Lance, I know that was a very long article and it’s easy to get caught up in the weeds of the attorney’s letter but if you go back to the first few words of the article Erik wrote, “An OUTSIDE [capitalization mine] PAC supporting Bill Hagerty’s bid. . . .” which I believe means that the ad had, by law, nothing to do with “Hagerty folks” and Hagerty’s campaign had nothing whatsoever to do with that ad. Thus your charges against Hagerty’s campaign, “Hagerty PAC” are entirely misplaced.

      You are certainly correct when you “. . .encourage people to ignore these ads and get the facts. . .” but rather than “. . .from people they trust” why not simply look at the candidate’s record. When you do Lance you will see that Chairman Manny’s record shows that he is nothing like he says he is in his ads. Dr. “CONSERVATIVE-OUTSIDER” is running as this table pounding conservative zealot when in fact his record shows he has done ABSOLUTELY nothing in the past for the conservative movement or candidates. As for being an “outsider,” he became “Chairman” Manny because he was chairman of the flagship Republican Party fundraising Statesmen’s Dinner and he lists Bob Davis and Chip Saltsman, former Chairmen of the Tenn. Republican Party as close friends.

      Lance, Chairman Manny’s entire campaign is a fraudulent enterprise. Please don’t reward him for it by giving him your vote.

      • Avatar
        Lance Persson says:

        Stuart, If Hagerty had any principles he would have made a public statement pointing out that the PAC information was misleading and that he did not support. By remaining quiet I feel that he is fine with the misleading information put out by his PAC.

        • Avatar
          LeeAnn C says:

          Dr M isn’t a nice guy and his ads that ran months ago shoved us squarely in the Hagerty camp. Apparently, you’ve not been paying attention to this race. Dr M is an empty suit and we, as voters, have NO idea who he is and what he stands for. He’s making me literally sick to state that he’s “taking the high road”. Yiu can’t even see the high rise from where his campaign has been with lies!

        • Avatar
          Stuart I. Anderson says:

          In a perfect world, perhaps, but as a practical matter unless the ad is most egregiously wrong or bad campaigns don’t scurry about spending time and money critiquing ads run by PACs favorable to it’s candidate. Doing so only serves to distract from where the campaign is trying to draw attention which is the opposite of what they are trying to do.

          Ads are not the reason people should or shouldn’t vote for a candidate. I’m voting AGAINST Chairman Manny for reasons I set out and I simply watch the ads to see how the candidates are trying to appeal to low information voters.

          • Avatar
            MARLE says:

            Since you are correct that most ads are misleading (intentionally) and that most campaign money is spent on purposefully telling lies and half truths can’t you see why a lot of people don’t spend their money on campaign contributions.

          • Avatar
            Stuart I. Anderson says:

            ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!! Isn’t that a non sequitur? As if the purpose of spending money on campaign contributions is to run strictly truthful ads and campaigns. I even disagree with your premise. I think MOST ads simply emphasize the portion of the truth that is most advantageous to the candidate and generally avoid lies like any other type of advertising. The function of advertising BMW’s is not to give a dispassionate analysis about the pros and cons of owning a BMW and everyone understands that.

            I am a conservative and all my adult working life I have contributed to the political campaigns of candidates who I believe will govern upon being elected under the tenets of the conservative movement especially when they face an opponent who I am confident will do the opposite. Naturally, I want the recipient of my contribution to conduct a well run campaign which partly comes from a campaign that adheres as closely as possible to the truth but veracity, while nice and usually rewarded, is not what the game is primarily all about.

    • You said same thing about Bill Lee before he screwed us all. Includes you -unless you agree with more refugees And selling the 2nd Amendment short

    • Avatar
      Jason Wallflower says:

      What do you expect from Ward and Campaign Manager Michael Sullivan? The campaign manager has a history of bs and rumor is that he’s an extreme hothead.


    • Avatar
      LeeAnn C says:

      Says the Bill Lee loyalist, no matter what dictator he has become. We’ve all seen what buying into the Devaney charade has gotten us in governor. We can’t afford to be fooled again. Vote for Bill Hagerty! He’s going to win this because. As Marsha Blackburn said this morning to a PACKED crowd, Hagerty supporters are SMART! Love her description of Dr. M. A “conservative” of convenience, switching views when politically expedient!

  • Avatar
    Jimmy Wilson says:

    Look around the South and then to Washington, the Republican so called “leaders” are constantly getting caught in lies they tell. Trump leads the way and the other ones fall right in line and just spit out lies, or repeat them as required. The GOP is a bankrupt party and Trump is leading it down the tubes this election cycle. You can’t trust a single GOP canadate. The Republican poll numbers are dropping rapidly as the general public wakes up to what is happening. TN has a way to go but times are changing.

    • Avatar
      Lance Persson says:

      Jimmy, You have the freedom to say what you feel, just as I have the right to totally disagree with what you have said. There are lies in both parties but I have found that the most honest politicians are the conservative ones like Paul Rand.

      • You’re obviously day drinking heavily…..again. I thought you told your family and friends you would cut back ?

      • Avatar
        MARLE says:

        Would you call means testing SS, one of the few non-means-tested programs left, Conservative? You pay into it all your working life, not by choice, but by law. And then, if you have been prudent and end up with more money than your same-salaried/same-contribution-level neighbor, you will get less each year you draw SS. Does that sound conservative to you? They do the same with Medicare premiums already.

  • IF the accusations from BOTH CANDIDATES toward the other are TRUE…
    Tennessee Conservative VOTERS should not want EITHER…
    IF the accusations being made are FALSE… then they are BOTH LIARS…
    And will fit in… and might do well for THEMSELVES in Washington.
    Once again… the U.S. SENATE is SOLD… to the HIGHEST BIDDER…!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *