campaign finance

Kelsey wants to take back guilty plea made with ‘unsure heart and confused mind’

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

When former state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges in November, he signed a document stating: “I offer my plea of ‘GUILTY’ freely and voluntarily and of my own accord; also, my lawyers have explained to me, and I feel and believe I understand this petition.” Now, Kelsey wants out of the deal.

According to a motion filed Friday, Kelsey is seeking to withdraw his plea and wants the judge to dismiss the entire case against him for conspiring to funnel campaign money from his state account to support his failed congressional bid in 2016.

“The stress of simultaneously dealing with a terminally ill father, newborn twins, and a three-year-old daughter” caused Kelsey to have “an unsure heart and a confused mind” when he agreed to plead guilty, according to the filing.

Kelsey in a sworn declaration said he had lost his license to practice law, access to banking system, and his job. According to Kelsey, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Other than speeding tickets, I have had no experience with the criminal justice system as a defendant. As an attorney, I exclusively practiced civil law. Prior to the days leading up to the plea agreement in this case, I was unfamiliar with the federal criminal sentencing guidelines and the process of entering a plea agreement with no agreement as to what the sentence would be and without which the government would claim to seek a vastly enhanced ‘trial penalty’ for a defendant wishing to exercise his constitutional rights.

GOP executive committee member tells judge Kelsey has ‘suffered enough already’

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

State Republican Party executive committee member Peggy Larkin is urging U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw not to sentence former Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) to any time behind bars following his guilty plea to federal campaign finance crimes.

“I believe that Brian and his family have suffered enough already and [he] will be a greater benefit to society serving outside of prison,” Larkin writes.

Kelsey is scheduled to be sentenced on March 28.

Read the full letter dated Jan. 21 here:

Dear Chief Judge Crenshaw:

I am privileged to write this letter in support of Brian Kelsey. I have known Brian as a good friend for 25 years and during that time have observed him as an outstanding young attorney. I have worked with
Brian in the political arena and find him to be a model citizen of his community.

Brian shows extreme professionalism in his work as well as those he serves. He is always courteous, and exceedingly kind to his fellow man. He is industrious, energetic, loyal, and generous.

At Georgetown he was the President of the Christian Legal Society. He served in the office of Counsel to the President of the United States; in the office of U.S. Senator Bill Frist, and served in the office of U.S. Representative Ed Bryant.

At UNC, he was the leader of the Greek Life Bible Study and AGO TV Volunteer. At the University of Memphis Law School, he was an Adjunct Professor of Government Relations in 2017. In the fall of 2010 and 2011 he served as an Undergraduate Adjunct Professor of Constitutional Law.

Brian was the only senator in Tennessee history to successfully pass more than one constitutional amendment. He passed three. He served as the Judiciary Committee Chairman in 2009-2018 Senate. He also served as chairman of the Education Committee Chairman during this time.

He was the Student Chapter President at the Georgetown University Law Center, and a member of The Federalist Society. He served on the American Legislative Exchange Council, and was Chairman of the Civil Justice Task Force Council of State Governments; American Federation for Children; Tennessee Holocaust Commission, and a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association. In addition he was voted the Legislator of the Year 2018 and 2011. He received the Conservative Excellent Award in 2017 and 2015 from the American Conservative Union. In 2008 he won the Pro Bono Award. The list
does not end here.

Brian has a heart for public service and has worked diligently for the past 18 years preserving our conservative values, providing jobs for Tennesseans, improving our children’s education, and keeping us safe in Tennessee. He either sponsored or worked on committees that put the Right to Work in our state constitution, allowing students to return to in-person learning, helped in recruiting Ford Motor Company jobs to West Tennessee, banned critical Race Theory from our schools, let first responders live where they want, and protected constitutional rights during the pandemic.

Brian and his wife, Amanda, have three children. One daughter, and twin boys. Bryan’s character is beyond impeccable. He is a Christian and practices his faith daily. He is from a well-known, and well-respected family in Memphis. His mother is an educator. His brother is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. His dad is a successful businessperson, and sadly, currently undergoing cancer treatment [Robert Kelsey died on Feb. 2].

I believe that Brian and his family have suffered enough already and will be a greater benefit to society serving outside of prison.

/signed/

Peggy C. Larkin

State Executive Committee Woman

District thirty-one

New TNJ alert: Farewell to the Goose, campaign finance roundup, Nashville upheaval

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), left, and Rep. Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) await the begin of the State of the State address on Jan 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Farewell to Golden Goose: Lobbying legend Hensley dies at 80.

— Money matters: A look at the last campaign cycle’s biggest donors, recipients, vendors.

— Nashville mayor begs off bid for second term as GOP lawmakers target capital city’s autonomy.

Also: Former gubernatorial legal counsel Dwight Tarwater chosen for Supreme Court opening, John Cooper wont’ seek another term as Nashville mayor, Paul Sherrell looks in the mirror, and Cameron Sexton channels Travis Bickle over the state of Lower Broadway.

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

Or subscribe here.

New TNJ edition alert: Ready or not, here comes the fight over premixed cockails

Hard seltzers for sale in a Nashville grocery store on Jan. 24, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Could ready-to-drink cocktails be headed to state grocery stores?

— House speaker says Nashville business community behind effort to slash Metro Council, new bill would repeal special tourism taxes in the city.

— New health commissioner not taking questions on rejection of federal HIV funds, freshman lawmaker withdraws bill to give governors two more terms, and unifying legalized gambling.

— Money matters: The big donors and recipients of campaign funds since the November election.

Also: Memphis girds for release of video of fatal police beating, Glenn Funk recuses himself from Jeremy Durham case, Joe Towns catches a break from the Registry, and Cameron Sexton lists the Nashville representatives he likes.

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

Or subscribe here.

Kelsey’s change-of-plea hearing set for Nov. 22

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

State Sen. Brian Kelsey’s change-of-plea hearing in the criminal case stemming from his 2016 congressional bid has been scheduled for Nov. 22.

Prosecutors last year charged Kelsey with orchestrating the illegal transfer of state campaign funds to a national conservative group to run ads supporting his run for federal office.

Kelsey, who had vociferously maintained his innocence in his few public comments since he was indicted, abruptly changed his tune last week by having his attorneys file a change-of-plea motion.
The move came a week after the guilty plea of co­defendant Josh Smith, the owner of a Nashville private club catering to GOP politicos. It also followed the previous weekend’s arrest of former Rep. Jeremy Durham on drunken driving charges in the city’s downtown tourist district. Durham, a Franklin Republican, is identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, and Kelsey has intimated his longtime friend and political ally was cooperating with prosecutors in the case.

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.

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.

Ogles claimed he raised $453K in first 30 days, but collected only $247K in entire quarter

Turns out Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles wasn’t being truthful when he announced in May he had raised $453,000 in the first 30 days of his campaign for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District. After missing Federal Election Commission’s disclosure deadline by more than a week, Ogles finally reported Saturday he had raised $247,087 throughout the entire quarter.

Another $320,000 came in the form of a loan from the candidate on April 15. Lest anyone think Ogles was counting the loan toward his total in May, he told a reporter at the time his haul didn’t include any loans.

Ogles raised another $17,315 in the pre-primary period and spent a total of $301,063 and had balance of $283,338. But $53,534 of his cash on hand is reserved for the general election, meaning he had a $229,804 balance for the primary.

New TNJ edition: Ethics overhaul getting Lee signature, 5th District developments, slowdown on the Drive to 55

Registry member Tom Lawless and then-Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) confer before Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Lee signing transparency push into law despite allies’ opposition

— From the campaign trail: Starbuck files suit again, Ortagus advising Winstead, Ogles gets backing and staffing from former outfit.

— State’s college enrollment figures going in ‘wrong direction, very fast.’

— Survey says : Vandy poll gauges attitudes toward abortion, politicians, the economy.

Also: Leadership shakeup at TWRA, Jim Strickland considering third term if voters loosen limits, GOP grapples with crossover voting allegations again, and what’s in a (middle) name?

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

Or subscribe here.

McNally hits back at ‘blatant untruths’ about campaign finance overhaul

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) wields the gavel during a floor session to adjust the course of the legislative session in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) is hitting back at what he calls “blatant untruths” being spread about a the campaign finance and ethics overhaul advancing in the General Assembly.

McNally said efforts to get nonprofit “dark money” groups to disclose how much they are spending has caused the most pushback, including over what he called the false narrative that lawmakers are trying to force them to identify their donors.

“It is amazing that various seemingly ‘legitimate‘ groups are resorting to such disingenuous tactics to oppose it,” he said. “Is it because they are spending so much that Tennesseans would be appalled if they knew? Or is it that they spend so little that they fear they would be exposed as political grifters working to enrich only themselves?”

Here’s McNally’s full statement:

There are many blatant untruths circulating regarding the ethics reform bill Speaker Sexton and I have introduced.

The bill in question does not censor or otherwise curtail conservative activism or free speech in any way. Anything conservative groups can do now, they can still do under this bill. The legislation does not restrict their activity at all. The only additional requirement is disclosure.

Openness and transparency in the political process are prerequisites for freedom. For too long liberals, big corporations and corrupt political actors have been allowed to exploit loopholes in our system and operate in darkness.

The original Senate version as well as the current house version does not affect donors at all, just expenditures. It is simply a lie to say otherwise.

This bill is aimed at bad actors like the fictitious Matthew Phoenix and the various shell companies and shadowy PACs used by certain legislators to line their own pockets.

It is amazing that various seemingly “legitimate” groups are resorting to such disingenuous tactics to oppose it.

Is it because they are spending so much that Tennesseans would be appalled if they knew? Or is it that they spend so little that they fear they would be exposed as political grifters working to enrich only themselves?

If you are working to influence the outcome of an election, the voters deserve to know who you are and what you are doing. What could possibly be wrong with that? The fact this is even in question demonstrates the need for the legislation.

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