Brian Kelsey

Kelsey, who angrily denied charges, to change plea in federal case

State Sen. Brian Kelsey denies wrongdoing in a video conference call following his indictment on Oct. 25, 2021. (Image: screengrab from call)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican who blamed a political witch hunt for a federal indictment on campaign finance charges, now plans to change his not-guilty plea in the case.

Kelsey’s attorneys made the motion for a hearing on the matter on Thursday. The lawmaker’s codefendant, Nashville club owner Josh Smith, pleaded guilty last week.

Kelsey is accused of illegally transferring money from his state campaign account to Smith’s PAC and then directing the money to be redirected to a national group to spend on his 2016 congressional bid. Kelsey finished fourth in that contest.

U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw has yet to schedule Kelsey’s change-of-plea hearing.

New TNJ alert: Guilty plea in Kelsey case, Durham appeals, pro-Harwell PAC gets Harwell funding

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, and then-Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) hold a press conference on Feb. 2, 2015. (Image Credit: Erik Schelzig)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Restaurateur pleads guilty in Kelsey case, Durham appeals Registry fines

— Andy Ogles’ lackluster fundraising endures through third quarter while Heidi Campbell rakes it in.

— Independent expenditures PAC founded to help Beth Harwell got major funding from … Harwell.

— Nashville mayor proposes final piece of funding plan for stadium.

Also: Weston Wamp and Hamilton Count Commission at odds over firing attorney, the Volunteers crowdsource the money to replace goalposts after historic win, Mark Green get’s $600 worth of hair and makeup work, and Andy Ogles tries to place this Bill Frist guy.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

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New TNJ edition alert: Kelsey now flying solo, 3rd quarter fundraising totals, senators back Ogles

Brian Kelsey, center, awaits Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

This week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— And then there was one: Kelsey’s codefendant to plead guilty.

— Campaign finance roundup: Martin neck-in-neck with Lee in third quarter fundraising totals, but far behind in cash on hand.

— From the campaign trail: Blackburn and Hagerty headline fundraiser for Ogles with Cruz waiting in the wings; Lee channels the pope in his latest TV ad.

— Obituary: Larry Cole, former House clerk who wrote novel about a real statehouse romance.

Also: Internal polling points to wide support for “right to work” amendment, Tre Hargett strikes plea agreement in DUI case, John Rich hosts a fundraiser for a firebrand congresswoman in Nashville, and Cameron Sexton declares war on “political gibberish.”

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

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Kelsey codefendant Smith to plead guilty

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, attends a Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville on April 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Josh Smith, the proprietor of The Standard social club in Nashville, has struck an agreement with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to one charge of funneling soft money to state Sen. Brian Kelsey’s unsuccessful congressional bid in 2016. Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, remains a defendant on all five counts.

Smith’s attorneys say he plans to plead guilty to Count Two of the indictment, which alleges Smith had “solicited, received, directed, transferred, and spent” more than $25,000 while acting as an agent for Kelsey’s campaign for the GOP nomination in the 8th District in 2016.

According to the indictment, Kelsey funneled money from his state campaign account through political action committees controlled by Smith and Andy Miller Jr. to the American Conservative Union (ACU), which then spent $80,000 on radio ads supporting his bid for federal office. It was all for naught, as Kelsey finished a distant fourth in the Republican primary.

Kelsey has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. He isn’t seeking re-election this year.

The trial is scheduled for January.

New TNJ alert: Here come the subpoenas, slammed doors, and divining rods

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The new edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it:

— It’s subpoena time in the federal probe that ensnared ex-Rep. Robin Smith. At least three lawmakers and a legislative staffer are set to appear before the grand jury next week.

— Lee’s budget amendment signals the end is near for this year’s legislative session.

— Legislative roundup: Terri Lynn Weaver slams the door after failing to get a second, Indian gaming proposal stalls, the legislature grabs the authority to name six of nine members of the state Board of Education, and it won’t get any easier for minor parties to get on the ballot.

— Andy Ogles jumps into 5th Congressional District race, but his campaign infrastructure has yet to catch up.

Also: Jason Hodges welcomes the FBI to the Capitol, indicted Sen. Brian Kelsey honored as a “public-spirited citizen of the highest order,” Tennessee could grow by 1 million residents in next 20 years, and the state GOP asks for cash for a new computer.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Hagerty, Blackburn endorse Taylor’s bid to succeed Kelsey (UPDATED)

In a somewhat unusual move, Tennessee U.S. Sens. Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn are making endorsements in the Republican primary to succeed indicted state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).

Hagerty (R-Nashville) tweeted Wednesday morning that he is backing Brent Taylor, a funeral home operator who recently resigned as chair of the Shelby County Election Commission. Blackburn (R-Brentwood) is also endorsing Taylor, per a news release.

Kelsey announced recently that he won’t seek another term in the Senate to pursue an “exciting change in my personal life.” Kelsey is awaiting trial in January 2023 on federal criminal charges related to a failed bid for Congres in 2016.

Another announced candidate in the District 31 race is Brandon Toney, a Germantown nurse practitioner who has called Kelsey “embarrassing for all of us.” Former Shelby County Probate Court Clerk Paul Boyd has also expressed interest in running for the GOP nomination. House Commerce Chair Kevin Vaughan (R-Collierville) was heavily encouraged to run for the seat before Kelsey’s retirement announcement, but decided to run for another term in the lower chamber.

Indicted senator cites ‘exciting change’ in personal life in deciding agaisnt re-election bid

State Sen. Brian Kelsey denies wrongdoing in a video conference call following his indictment on Oct. 25, 2021. (Image: screengrab from call)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican awaiting a federal criminal trial related to campaign fundraising during a 2016 congressional bid, announced he won’t seek re-election to the General Assembly this year.

“I will not be running for reelection due to a recent, exciting change in my personal life,” Kelsey wrote on Twitter. “And I look forward to spending more time with my family.”

Kelsey initially vowed to seek a rapid trial in hopes of clearing his name, but was later granted a yearlong delay.

After arguing in favor of the state’s school voucher law in a Supreme Court challenge last year, Kelsey was notably not among the speakers when the case was reheard before the state’s highest court last month.

New TNJ edition alert: The dead bill file, Lamar gets Senate nod, likely candidate for Kelsey seat

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

This week’s Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it:

— Short-term rentals, food trucks, cockfighting, and landfills: Lawmakers start to clear decks as session’s final stretch looms.

— Political roundup: Lamar gets nod for vacant Senate seat, Kelsey seat gets new challenger, Warner faces primary showdown from new Williamson County side of district.

— Going Canadian: Politically connected bank gobbled up for $13.4B.

Also: Cothren seeks to plead the Fifth in campaign finance probe, Casada chides Registry over ‘bias,’ Tennessee liquor stores pledge to remove Russian booze from shelves, and Gardenire calls for a “kilt-raising party.”

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

New TNJ edition alert: Congressional redistricting on tap, Robinson seeks to avoid prison time

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), left, walks to look at a proposed House redistricting map on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

It’s The Tennessee Journal’s first print edition of the year! Here’s what’s in it:

 — House to release congressional maps, but Senate mum on plans.

— Nashville is reportedly a finalist, but how far will mayor push for convention if GOP breaks up his brother’s U.S. House seat?

— From the courts: Robinson lawyers argue loss of Senate seat would be punishment enough for fraud conviction; Kelsey can’t use money campaign fundraiser to pay defense attorneys.

— State casts doubt on whether pharmacy benefit manager bill does what sponsors said it would do.

Also: Boyd runs Antarctic marathon, ECD halts China recruiting, Tennessee Waltz figure rejected for Memphis job, and Faison’s referee pantsing.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Tenn. lawmaker indicted on federal campaign finance charges is asking for donations

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, attends a Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville on April 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) recently got his federal trial on campaign finance charges moved until January 2023. Then he started going about the business of raising money for his re-election bid next year.

“The Liberals have found an opponent to run against me!” Kelsey says in the fundraising appeal. “This race is the number one target for Democrats in the state of Tennessee and last election we won by only 51-49%!”

Kelsey makes no mention of his legal issues in the fundraising email.

Prosecutors allege Kelsey funneled money from his state account through other political action committees to a national conservative group to spend on radio ads in support of his ill-fated 2016 congressional bid. Kelsey has denied the charges and denounced the case as a political witch hunt.

It remains to be seen how enthusiastic potential donors will be about giving money to the indicted senator, especially when campaign finance disclosures due at the end of next month will reveal who has contributed to the embattled lawmaker.

Here’s the invite to Jan. 4 the fundraiser:

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