Lee accused of campaign finance violations; spokesman calls complaint ‘nonsense’

Williamson County businessman Bill Lee is accused in a recently-filed complaint of violating various laws in the financing of his campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, reports The Tennessean. A spokesman for the candidate calls the complaint “nonsense” and the newspaper notes there are a couple of apparent factual errors that might prompt the Registry of Election Finance to dismiss it.

The complaint, filed by Joe Darke of Dover, Tennessee, on Thursday, says Lee is using a tax-sheltered trust to illegally donate money to the campaign, alleges that Lee has accepted illegal contributions from some individuals and businesses and questions Lee’s frequent use of television ads for his company. 

In the complaint, Darke points to four donations totaling $16,000 between Silveroak GST Trust and Silveroak GST NE Trust, both of which have a Franklin address. Darke says the address for the two trusts is that of Lee’s business, Lee Co. 

But an online search of Lee Co.’s filings with the secretary of state’s office lists a different address than the one associated with the trusts. 

Darke also argues that Lee is “using his businesses to supplement his campaign in violation of the law and without disclosure and in excess of limits.”

He points out that in February, Lee’s gubernatorial campaign donated $500 in goods and services from his company for a silent auction at a local GOP event. Darke notes that Lee’s gubernatorial campaign did not disclose the silent auction items. 

Among the contributions the complaint questions are four donations Lee received in May 2017. That month, two Brentwood-based companies, Clayton Associates Holdings and Clayton Management LLC, donated a total of $8,000 to Lee. The two businesses list Stuart McWhorter as their registered agent and have the same address, according to filings with the secretary of state. 

Darke also argues that the state’s records do not list Clayton Management LLC as a registered entity. The state, however, does have records for the business. 

Beyond the contributions, Darke questions whether Lee is using advertising for his personal company to bolster his candidacy….Darke says that while advertising for businesses is tax deductible, if the ads for Lee Co. were being used to promote Lee personally then the company should have to pay income taxes. 

“If the Lee Company deducted the expenses of these advertisements that are clearly done to support his run for governor, this sure edges up on income tax fraud,” Darke says, while asking for his complaint to be forwarded to the IRS, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and others. 

… Chris Walker, communications adviser to the Lee campaign, dismissed the complaint, saying, “This is nonsense. Clearly the other campaigns are seeing what we’re seeing and they’re scared.”

Note: The Registry board has previously dismissed a complaint filed against Diane Black and voted to take no action on a complaint filed against Beth Harwell. Previous posts HERE (Black) and HERE (Harwell).

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