glen casada

Warner files fundraising report after blaming FBI raid for delay

Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) is sworn into the House in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Freshman Rep. Todd Warner, one of three Republican House members who recently had their homes and offices raided by the FBI, has filed a campaign finance disclosure after previously saying he couldn’t access his records because they had been seized by the federal agents.

The Registry of Election Finance ruled this week that it didn’t have the authority to give Warner an extension due to the law enforcement activity and instructed him to reconstruct his report from online filings

According to the report, Warner’s top donations in the fourth quarter were $1,500 each from the PACs of Amazon and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). He also received $1,000 each from CVS Health, the Marshall County Republican Party, and Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro).

Warner reported raising a total of $9,750 and spending $1,183 during the period.

The other lawmakers searched by the FBI were Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin and Robin Smith of Hixson.

Paperwork for mystery vendor appears to have been improperly filed in registered agent’s name

Phoenix Solutions, the campaign vendor that has come under scrutiny following an FBI raid on Tennessee lawmakers last month, appears to have improperly filed its application to do business in the state.

A Spokane, Wash.-based company called Northwest Registered Agents LLC had been hired to originally register Phoenix Solutions in New Mexico in November 2019. When the company filed its papers with the Tennessee Secretary of State four days later, it submitted an electronic signature in the name of the same Northwest employee, Morgan Noble. The problem is that Noble did not submit the latter filing for Phoenix Solutions, according to her employer.

“We did not do that,” Jed Smith, a spokesman for Northwest Registered Agent LLC, told The Tennessee Journal. “It was unauthorized.”

The company remains a client of Northwest in both New Mexico and Tennessee, but Smith said “we weren’t hired” for registration purposes in the latter.

Phoenix Solutions did $231,144 worth of business with Tennessee Republicans — almost entirely from House members — in the year since emerging on the scene. Rep. Robin Smith of Hixson, a former state GOP chair and then a freshman lawmaker, was a chief proponent of directing caucus business toward Phoenix Solutions.

Smith, newly elected Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill), and former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) had their homes and offices searched by federal agents. Smith and Casada have declined to answer questions about whether they or former aide Cade Cothren (whose home was also searched) had any financial ties to Phoenix Solutions.

A phone number for Phoenix Solutions listed in invoices filed with the Tennessee General Assembly is disconnected.

Casada PAC attacks from 2018 appear to be templates for hit pieces on Tillis

A political action committee that ran attacks last summer against former Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) used the same template as hit pieces issued by the PAC of former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) two years earlier.

The mailers attacking Tillis were run by a group called the Faith Freedom Family Fund, or FFFF. The ones targeting Jonathan Mason, a Republican candidate running for a Hamilton County House seat in 2018, were sent out by Red Ivory Strategies for Casada’s CAS-PAC. Red Ivory is owned by Michael Lotfi, whom Casada later hired for a no-show job at the General Assembly.

“Lying Rick Tillis will say & do anything to get elected … Don’t let him fool you!” reads an FFFF mailer.

“Lying Jonathan Mason will say & do anything to get elected … Don’t let him fool you!” says a CAS-PAC mailer.

Red Ivory received at least $135,000 from House Republicans in 2020, including $57,750 from the GOP caucus (which isn’t supposed to work against its own members).

The Tennessean has reported that former Casada aide Cade Cothren, who helped run CAS-PAC, also assigned work on behalf of FFFF.

Casada’s preferred candidate in the 2018 primary was Esther Helton of East Ridge, who went on to win the primary and the general election. A mailer from that race carried a Chattanooga postal permit number, 383, that has featured heavily in the Tillis primary.

Permit No. 383 was used in August by Tillis’ opponent Todd Warner, the FFFF PAC, and a campaign vendor called Phoenix Solutions, which has run mailers for a variety of GOP candidates. Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) was a major promoter of Phoenix.

Smith, Casada, and Warner had their homes and offices searched by the FBI earlier this month, which agents also went through Cothren’s apartment.

First House GOP meeting following FBI raid will be secret

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) is seen through a smoked glass window to a closed Republican caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House Republican Caucus is holding its first meeting since federal agents descended on the homes and offices of three sitting GOP members. It will be closed to the press and public under a new rule adopted by its members without debate following the November elections.

During the same meeting two years ago, then-House Speaker Glen Casada of Franklin made the hard sell on rule changes that ended the unrestricted power of the speaker pro tem to vote in any committees and eliminated floor speeches unrelated to pending bills or motions (the latter appeared to apply to all but then-Rep. John DeBerry or Memphis, who was continued to be allowed to speechify to his heart’s content).

Casada and fellow Republican Reps. Robin Smith of Hixson and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill were the subjects of FBI searches on Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet announced the reason for the probe. Search warrant affidavits remain sealed.

Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) speaks to reporters in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Casada and fellow Republican Reps. Robin Smith of Hixson and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill were the subjects of FBI searches on Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet announced the reason for the probe. Search warrant affidavits remain sealed.

The meeting takes place on Tuesday morning before lawmakers are scheduled to start the 112th General Assembly by electing their respective speakers. Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) are expected to be re-elected without much trouble.

Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) is sworn into the House in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Republican Caucus meetings remain open to the public.

McNally: Lawmakers should resign if arrested

Rep. Glen Casada speaks to fellow Republicans in a caucus meeting on Jan. 10, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican who wore a wire for the FBI in the Rocky Top investigation in the 1980s, says state lawmakers who who had their homes and offices searched by federal agents should resign if they are arrested.

“Of course nobody’s been arrested. They’ve just had search warrants,” McNally told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “But, if somebody’s arrested, I think they should resign.”

The lawmakers who had their offices and homes raided on Friday include former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), and Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill). The FBI is also looking into former top Casada aide Cade Cothren, interim House Chief of Staff Holt Whitt, and two legislative staffers.

So far we’ve heard from the lawyers of Smith and Whitt:

[Smith] intends to cooperate fully with the investigation in all respects. while she would have preferred to do so voluntarily, Robin understands this may not have been possible…. [She] “is not the target of the investigation, and she has not done anything wrong. Please understand that due to the ongoing investigation, Robin will not be providing any further comment.”

— Smith attorney Ben Rose to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Holt Whitt was one of several individuals contacted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding an ongoing investigation. Mr. Whitt is a well-respected legislative aide with an impeccable reputation, and he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He is cooperating fully with the investigation. Out of respect for the legal process, Mr. Whitt will have no further public comment regarding this matter.”

— Whitt attorney Ty Howard.

Federal agents descended on Rep. Warner’s home and business in Marshall County with search warrants, the contents of which remain shrouded in mystery by the government. Significantly, Rep. Warner has not been charged with any wrongdoing.”

— Warner’s attorney Peter Strianse

FBI raids state lawmakers’ homes, offices

Federal agents and legislative staffers confer outside the office of Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) on Jan. 8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Federal agents descended on the homes and legislative offices of Republican state Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Robin Smith of Hixson, and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill on Friday. They also executed searches at the home of former Casada chief of staff Cade Cothren and three current legislative staffers.

The FBI didn’t say what it was investigating, though speculation spread around the Cordell Hull Building that agents were looking into efforts supporting Warner defeat of Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in last year’s primary and the previous year’s push to pass a controversial school voucher bill.

The curious case of the Casada calls

Rep. Glen Casada. (Erik Schelzig/Tennessee Journal)

Former House Speaker Glen Casada says that contrary to what The Tennessee Journal has reported, the Franklin Republican is not supporting Rep. Andrew Farmer’s bid for House Majority Leader. He says he’s also not backing the current No. 2 Republican in the House, Rep. William Lamberth of Portland.

“Someone is bold face lying to you,” Casada said in a text message. “I am no in no way helping anyone in the upcoming caucus elections.”

The Journal had been inundated by claims that Casada is agitating behind the scenes on Farmer’s behalf. Exhibit A, the reasoning goes, is his business relationship with Farmer — they are partners in Red Door Title Services in Franklin. Not so, says Farmer, a Sevierville attorney who has other similar relationships with title businesses around the state. Farmer also says Casada told him he wouldn’t be supporting his leadership bid.

And yet the word spreading around the Capitol is that Casada may be looking to exact some revenge on Lamberth and then-Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville) for abandoning him when his speakership collapsed last year. Sexton later won election to Casada’s old job in the chamber.

Casada — who has been speaker, majority leader, and caucus chairman (twice) — has much experience when it comes to Republican leadership fights. He’s not always successful (he lost his first bid for the speaker’s nomination and only lasted a couple months after finally winning the top job), but other ambitious colleagues ignore his machinations at their peril.

So is Casada really staying out of the leadership race? In the end, it will probably come down to what the wily lawmaker sees as presenting the best possible outcome for Glen Casada.

Farmer challenging Lamberth for majority leader

Reps. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), right, and Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) speak before a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) is challenging Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland) for the position of House majority leader this fall, according to a letter to colleagues obtained by the The Tennessee Journal.

Farmer and Lamberth were two of four Republican attorneys first elected to the House in 2012 (the other two were Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah and disgraced former Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin). Farmer won the District 17 seat following Republican Rep. Frank Niceley’s election to the state Senate, while Lamberth was elected the District 44 seat vacated by the retirement of Rep. Mike McDonald (D-Portland).

Lamberth won the chamber’s No. 2 leadership position in November 2018 in the same caucus election that saw Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) nominated for what turned out to be a truncated speakership.

Here’s Farmer’s letter:

Dear Members,

As most of you know, I have been considering the opportunity to run for a caucus leadership position. Realizing the challenges of the upcoming session, I am ready to work with you to face those challenges to make a positive impact on our great state. After much prayer, deliberation and discussion with my wife and family, I have decided to announce my candidacy for House Majority Leader.

Our caucus benefits from a wide range of abilities, viewpoints and experiences among the members. As Majority Leader, I will work to help every member effectively represent their district. We all deserve to make a difference, and that is only accomplished when all of our voices are heard. We only reach our full potential when we recognize the wisdom of our constituents who put us here in the first place. After more than a decade as an attorney I have experienced the challenges that individuals, businesses, and families face. I have learned that listening and understanding their needs are always the first step in helping. By applying those same principles we can make the upcoming session both exciting and productive.

I appreciate the support that so many of you have already offered and I look forward to meeting individually with each one of you to discuss how we, together can reach new heights as a unified caucus. I am respectfully asking each of you for your support and vote.

Sincerely,

Andrew Farmer

Democrat Camper, Republican Hicks test positive for COVID-19

House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D-Memphis) and House Finance Subcommittee Chair Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville) have tested positive for COVID-19.

Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis) speaks tp reporters on Nov. 25, 2018, after her elected as House minority leader. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Camper felt ill during the start of last week’s special session, but an initial test did not detect the virus. She went home to Memphis as a precaution, where another test determined she had been infected. Camper is resting and recuperating at home, according to a statement from the House Democratic Caucus.

Hicks attended last week’s special session and was among several Republicans seen interacting with others without a mask. He works at Rogersville City School, which last week announced it would delay opening after two staffers tested positive for COVID-19 and while it awaited test results on a third.

The two positive tests follow the hospitalization this week of Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) due to COVID-19. Carter had skipped the special session along with former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), who said he stayed home because had been exposed to the coronavirus. Casada wouldn’t tell The Tennessean whether he had tested positive, but said he had no symptoms and felt fine.

Rep. Kent Calfee (R-Kingston) tested positive for COVID-19 following the conclusion of the regular session in June, as did former Republican Rep. Kevin Brooks, the mayor of Cleveland, who was hospitalized with pneumonia on both lungs. Brooks had served as as the minister of the day for the final House floor session in June.

Winners and losers in the General Assembly’s fundraising sweepstakes

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The final fundraising disclosures are in before Thursday’s primary election. We’ve dug through the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance disclosures to aggregate how much each candidate for the House and Senate has raised so far through this election cycle.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) leads the way with $359,200, followed by freshman Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) with $290,700. Sen. Paul Rose (R-Covington) is next on the list with $226,500, though his numbers are a bit inflated by having stood for a special election during the cycle.

On the other end of the spectrum are incumbents who have raised the least. They are Reps. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) with $2,900, Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) with $3,900, and former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) with $6,450.

These totals are for candidates only, meaning they don’t include any of their political action committees.

A couple caveats about the way the Registry keeps these numbers: They include outside donations and direct contributions from the candidates themselves, but not loans. For example, while Rep. Rick Tillis’ challenger Todd Warner in District 92 is listed as raising $2,950, that figure doesn’t include the eye-popping $127,100 he has loaned himself. The figures also don’t include unitemized contributions, which for some candidates can be substantial.

So with all that being said, the full list follows. Challengers and candidates in open races are listed in italics.

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