american conservative union

American Conservative Union releases ratings of Tenn. lawmakers, makes no mention of legal issues

Sen. Brian Kelsey walks in the state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The American Conservative Union, which is mentioned in several not-so-subtle ways in the federal campaign finance fraud indictment against state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), has released its latest ratings of Tennessee lawmakers — including of the aforementioned Kelsey, who gets an 85.

“From protecting the Second Amendment to banning Critical Race Theory in schools, it is no surprise that Tennessee, led by a great governor in Bill Lee, once again scores among the most conservative state’s in the country,” Matt Schlapp, the group’s chairman, said in a release.

Kelsey is accused of funneling money from his state account through two other PACs to the American Conservative Union, which then spent money on ads supporting his ill-fated congressional bid in 2016. Kelsey has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

The ACU scored 84 roll call votes as part of its ratings, including bills banning government vaccine passports, changing certificate of need rules, making Tennessee a gun rights “sanctuary state,” banning students from participating in sports not corresponding to the gender listed at birth, opting out of federal unemployment benefit enhancements, and banning “critical race theory” in schools.

Here are the ratings:

SenatorPartyDist.20212020Lifetime
Akbari, RaumeshD2923%38%29%
Bailey, PaulR1587%79%87%
Bell, MikeR980%75%85%
Bowling, JaniceR1683%75%85%
Briggs, RichardR778%71%80%
Campbell, HeidiD2026%n/a26%
Crowe, RustyR381%75%82%
Gardenhire, ToddR1073%75%82%
Gilmore, BrendaD1928%29%25%
Haile, FerrellR1883%71%86%
Hensley, JoeyR2882%62%85%
Jackson, EdR2783%76%85%
Johnson, JackR2384%75%88%
Kelsey, BrianR3185%77%87%
Kyle, SaraD3027%28%31%
Lundberg, JonR485%77%85%
Massey, BeckyR679%76%79%
Mcnally, RandyR578%72%85%
Niceley, FrankR881%79%81%
Pody, MarkR1782%n/a85%
Powers, BillR2283%76%79%
Reeves, ShaneR1485%76%84%
Roberts, KerryR2587%79%89%
Robinson, KatrinaD33n/a†n/a38%
Rose, PaulR3283%79%83%
Southerland, SteveR181%71%83%
Stevens, JohnR2483%75%89%
Swann, ArtR283%n/a81%
Walley, PageR2678%n/a78%
Watson, BoR1185%76%87%
White, DawnR1385%76%90%
Yager, KenR1279%74%82%
Yarbro, JeffD2128%38%36%
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Mark Green is getting involved where now?

U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) has long been known for his pursuit of higher office, whether it is for governor, U.S. Senate, or beyond. He’s also been actively lobbying his former colleagues in the Tennessee legislature to not fundamentally alter his congressional district when they draw new political maps this winter.

But it turns out Green’s political interests aren’t limited to Tennessee — or even this hemisphere. The New York Times reports Green is now agitating in Brazil, where supporters of the country’s far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro are echoing many of the themes adopted by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

From the Times story:

Representative Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican who has pushed laws combating voter fraud, met with lawmakers in Brazil to discuss “voting integrity policies.” […] The American Conservative Union paid about $15,000 to send Mr. Green, the Tennessee Republican, according to a lobbying disclosure. His planned agenda included a discussion, over lunch, of voting laws with two Brazilian members of Congress who pushed to change Brazil’s.

The American Conservative Union has been in the news in Tennessee lately following the federal indictment of Green’s former state Senate colleague Brian Kelsey on charges he conspired to funnel campaign donations to the group through two political action committees. Kelsey has pleaded not guilty.

Report: American Conservative Union scrutinized as part of Kelsey campaign finance probe

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, confers with Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) on the House floor in Nashville on April 30, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Jounral)

A federal probe into campaign finance dealings by state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) is scrutinizing the dealings of Matt Schlapp and the American Conservative Union, according to a report by The Dispatch.

The conservative news site reports federal agents have interviewed current and former ACU employees about financial matters and about what one person called their “knowledge of the events leading up to the endorsement of Brian Kelsey.”

The Tennessee Journal learned in 2019 that state lawmakers had been called in for interviews with Department of Justice investigators to discuss alleged straw donations to Kelsey’s 2016 fourth-place campaign for the Republican nomination for an open 8th Congressional District race. Candidates are prohibited from using money raised for state races in federal campaigns.

As first reported in 2017 by The Tennessean (and later augmented by a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission), Kelsey’s state committee, Red State PAC, gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to fellow state lawmakers, who then turned around and gave donations to his congressional account. The former state Senate Judiciary chairman also had more than $100,000 from his state account transferred to the Standard Club PAC, which then gave money to the American Conservative Union — both directly and through another committee run by conservative businessman Andy Miller Jr. The national group then made independent expenditures on Kelsey’s behalf. Kelsey has denied any wrongdoing.

“It is often difficult to cut through confusing campaign rhetoric to figure out which candidate is the best conservative in a race, but we think this is actually an easy call,” Schlapp said at the time. “If voters in western Tennessee are looking for a proven leader with a conservative track record, the decision is easy. Brian Kelsey is the real deal.”

The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center filed complaints against Kelsey, the ACU, and others with the the Federal Elections Commission and to the Department of Justice in 2017. Unidentified sources told The Dispatch they had been interviewed in recent months about the Kelsey endorsement.

“They asked me about Matt Schlapp and [ACU Executive Director] Dan Schneider’s involvement within the organization, how they were involved with the disbursements of money and the decision of who to financially support,” one person told the publication. “One of the questions that really stuck with me was, ‘Was Matt Schlapp in those meetings when they decided who to endorse?’ I said yes. And they said, ‘So was he directly involved with the decisions to financially support the candidates?’ I said, I don’t know. And they said, ‘But would it be weird if Matt Schlapp didn’t know?’ I said yes.”

The ACU issued a statement downplaying the probe.

“We are aware of campaign finance allegations lingering from the 2016 election cycle that were reported in multiple press outlets after a Soros-funded group complained,” spokeswoman Regina Bratton said. “We continue to believe ACU’s activities, which took place more than five years ago, were legally compliant. We have been assured that ACU is not a target of any review by the government at this time.”

The Campaign Legal Center, which was founded by Republican former FEC member Trevor Potter, has received donations from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. The group has filed complaints against candidates of both parties.

A spokesman told The Tennessee Journal in late 2019 that Schlapp had neither been interviewed by federal investigators nor testified before the grand jury.

The statement’s emphasis on events having taken place more than five years ago could be an effort to point out the statute of limitations may have passed for events that took place in the summer of 2016, according to The Dispatch. But federal defense attorney Ken White told the publication that’s not necessarily the case.

“It depends really on whether they have any ongoing conduct,” White said. “For the statute of limitations, one of the many things in the feds’ bag of tricks is using ongoing conspiracies. Let’s say the ongoing conspiracy is to engage in defrauding the federal government in making false FEC filings: The statute on that conspiracy claim doesn’t begin to run until the last overt act in support of the conspiracy. So commonly, you do the FEC filings, and maybe you send someone money that’s the proceeds of the crime. Or you tell someone, ‘don’t talk to the cops’ in order to conceal the crime.”

The Campaign Legal Center’s chief of staff, former FEC lawyer Adav Noti, told The Dispatch the group had not yet received its customary notification that the complaint had been adjudicated despite the fact that it has “been pending a really long time.”

“The allegations in our complaint—they’re really quite bad,” Noti told the publicaiton. “This is not run-of-the-mill shenanigans. It’s true that $100,000 isn’t an overwhelming amount of money, but it’s not nothing for a congressional race in Tennessee, either. And the two-part scheme to route it back to the campaign — if that is indeed what happened, it’s a very serious violation. It’s not a ticky-tack or a technical issue.”

Kelsey reissued his standard statement on the investigation to The Dispatch: “I welcome any investigation because all donations were made in compliance with the law and on the advice of counsel.”

DesJarlais, Blackburn get highest TN rankings from American Conservative Union

Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn speaks at a rally in Franklin on Oct. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Per a press release from the American Conservative Union:

Alexandria, VA – The American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF), host of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), has just released the 50th Edition of its annual Ratings of Congress.  

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the scorecard, ACUF has released a comprehensive new platform to help better hold lawmakers accountable to conservative principles. The system breaks down the voting records of over 15,000 historical and active lawmakers and identifies each lawmaker’s specific policy strength and weakness. The system also provides head-to-head comparisons of elected officials through its 1.4 million vote database. Lawmaker ratings will be used to determine speaking invitations to CPAC and other ACU regional events.

In the 2020 session, four members of the Tennessee congressional delegation received awards for earning scores of 80% or higher from ACUF:

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (96%)

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (96%)

Rep. John Rose (89%

Rep. Mark Green (85%)

Tennessee’s other Republican members received the following scores: Rep. Tim Burchett (79%), Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (79%), Rep. David Kustoff (78%), Rep. Phil Roe (74%), and Fmr. Sen. Lamar Alexander (74%).

Democratic lawmakers Rep. Jim Cooper (4%) and Rep. Steve Cohen (0%) qualified for ACUF’s “Coalition of the Radical Left” for earning scores of 10% or lower.

This year CPAC and ACUF will present awards to 122 of the 535 members of Congress. The awards are used to help voters and activists identify which lawmakers are best upholding conservative principles and who to rally behind.

To produce this year’s scorecard, the ACUF’s Center for Legislative Accountability analyzed every vote taken last session and selected a wide-array of issues relating to fiscal, tax, regulatory, education, environment, Second Amendment rights, election security, life, and government integrity. All lawmakers in America at the federal and state levels are scored on a 100-point scale.

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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