indictment

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:

Kelsey gets yearlong delay for federal campaign finance trial

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 (R-Germantown) has been granted a yearlong delay before the start of his federal campaign finance trial.

Originally scheduled to begin next month, U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw ordered the proceedings to be re-set for Jan. 23, 2023. The motion to delay the case was made by Kelsey’s legal team and unopposed by the U.S. attorney’s office or codefendant Josh Smith.

The attorneys for all parties met with Crenshaw behind closed doors for 45 minutes on Monday morning while Kelsey and Smith urgently whispered to each other in the courtroom that was devoid of spectators other than two reporters. Upon ending the in camera meeting, the public portion of the hearing lasted about 10 minutes to formalize the new trial date, which Crenshaw described as a “firm.”

As previously reported in this week’s Tennessee Journal Kelsey attorney Paul Bruno said in a legal filing he faced a conflict with the original Jan. 18 court date because he is scheduled to go to trial in a quadruple homicide case in Nashville the following week. Bruno added the government has already provided “a significant amount of discovery” in the case and indicated more would be forthcoming. Given the volume of materials in the case, Kelsey and his legal team did not believe they had enough time to prepare for a trial next month.

Prosecutors say Kelsey funneled campaign funds from his state account through other political action committees to the American Conservative Union, the Washington-based organizer of CPAC conferences. The bulk of the money was then allegedly spent on radio ads supporting Kelsey’s unsuccessful bid for the 8th Congressional District in 2016. Kelsey has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and has claimed to be the subject of a political witch hunt.

Report: Durham subpoenaed for Kelsey grand jury

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

Sam Stockard of the Tennessee Lookout has some interesting details on former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) being subpoenaed to testify to the grand jury about Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), who was indicted last week on federal campaign finance and conspiracy charges.

UPDATE: Kelsey pleaded not guilty on Monday morning, per the Daily Memphian.

According to the Lookout, Durham was called to testify on March 11:

As part of the subpoena, Durham was required to provide copies of all documents and records related to Kelsey, Kelsey’s wife, Amanda Bunning, his wife, Jessica Durham, Josh Smith, Andrew “Andy” Miller, Zach Crandell, Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union, Dan Schneider, Ryan McGowan, Clifford Pintak, Kelsey for Congress, Red State PAC, VoteKelsey.com, American Conservative Union, Citizens 4 Ethics in Government PAC and any entity representing Kelsey and his associated political campaigns.

We know who the Kelseys and the Durhams are, along with Standard club owner Josh Smith and conservative donor Andy Smith. Here’s our best guess at some of the others named in the subpoena:

Schlapp is the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the Washington-based group that puts on CPAC conferences. McGowan is the ACU’s finance director, Dan Schneider is its executive director, and Crandell was the group’s creative director until September. Pintak is a political ad consultant based in northern Virginia.

Durham was also ordered to turn in all records relating to the funds transferred between the various entities and the Standard Club PAC, plus any relevant calendars, diaries, meeting minutes, receipts, or statements, along with emails, text messages, voice mails, phone calls, logs, and metadata. 

Kelsey in a Senate floor speech last week intimated that the chief witness in the case against him had been offered immunity in return for his testimony. Durham and Kelsey have long been close friends.

Kelsey: ‘I’m totally innocent’

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) discusses his federal indictment on campaign finance charges on Oct. 25, 2021. (Screengrab from Zoom call)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) hosted a Zoom call with reporters on Monday to denounce his federal indictment as politically motivated. Kelsey appeared with the Senate chamber as the backdrop.

Here’s what Kelsey had to say:

Look, this is nothing but a political witch hunt. The Biden administration is trying to take me out because I’m a conservative and I’m the No. 1 target of the Tennessee Democratic Party. I won my seat only 51% to 49% last time, and the Democrats think this will make the difference. They’re wrong. These 5-year-old, unfounded allegations have been reviewed and re-reviewed. They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now. I’m totally innocent, and I look forward to being cleared at trial.”

Kelsey’s attorney Ty Howard also spoke on the brief call.

“Let me state clearly and empathically from the start, these allegations are false,” Howard said. “Sen. Kelsey committed no crime. He is innocent. And he very much looks forward to his day in court.”

“Despite this ill-considered indictment, Sen. Kelsey and his legal team have great faith in our justice system,” Howard said. “He looks forward to being fully vindicated in a court of law. Out of respect for the legal process, we will take no questions today and this will be our only public comment during the pendency of this matter.

Read the Kelsey indictment here

Brian Kelsey, center with folder in hand, awaits Gov. Bill Lee’s arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The indictment of Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has led to widespread speculation about the identities of people and organizations mentioned in the charges.

Some are are easier to pinpoint than others. For example, Unindicted Coconspirator No. 2 is described as a “member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from in or around January 2013 to in or around September 2016, when he was expelled.” That description only fits former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin).

Political Organization No. 1 is listed as “a nonprofit corporation that hosted an annual political conference, published ratings on Members of Congress and State politicians, and issued political endorsements.” Presumably this refers to the American Conservative Union, which spent money in Kelsey’s congressional bid in 2016.

Individual No. 1 is named as the nonprofit’s director of government affairs who is now married to Kelsey. That description matches Amanda Bunning.

Coconspirator No. 1 is listed as “a Tennessee businessman and prominent political fundraiser and contributor,” who controlled a political action committee that received $30,000 from Smith’s PAC in July 2016. The Tennessean reported in 2017 the Standard Club PAC had given that amount to Citizens for Ethics in Government, the federal committee controlled by Andy Miller Jr.

Here is the full text of the indictment of state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown):

I N D I C T M E N T

THE GRAND JURY CHARGES:

COUNT ONE

18 U.SC. § 371

(CONSPIRACY)

At all times material to this indictment unless otherwise indicated:

I.       Relevant Individuals and Entities

1.      BRIAN KELSEY was a practicing attorney and member of the Tennessee Senate, representing District 31, which includes parts of Shelby County, Tennessee. In 2016, KELSEY unsuccessfully ran for an open seat to represent Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

2.      Federal Committee 1 was KELSEY’S authorized federal campaign committee.

3.      State Committee 1 was KELSEY’S Tennessee State Senate campaign committee.

4. JOSHUA SMITH was the owner and operator of Social Club 1, a members-only social club in Nashville, Tennessee popular among politicians and Nashville businessmen. SMITH also controlled PAC 1, a Tennessee-registered political action committee

5.      Unindicted Coconspirator 1 (“UCC 1”) was a Tennessee businessman and prominent political fundraiser and contributor. UCC 1 controlled PAC 2, a federal independent expenditure-only committee.

6.      Unindicted Coconspirator 2 (“UCC 2”) was a practicing attorney and member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from in or around January 2013 to in or around September 2016, when he was expelled by a vote of the House.

7.      Political Organization 1 was a nonprofit corporation that hosted an annual political conference, published ratings on Members of Congress and State politicians, and issued political endorsements. Political Organization 1 registered with the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) as a person or organization making independent expenditures.

8.      Individual 1 was the Director of Government Affairs for Political Organization 1 and a member of Political Organization 1’s senior management team from in or around late 2015 until in or around March 2017. In that role, Individual 1 managed Political Organization 1’s political expenditures during the 2015-16 federal election cycle. Individual 1 and KELSEY became engaged in or around July 2017 and married in or around January 2018.

9.      Individual 2 was a member of Political Organization’s senior management team. He oversaw Political Organization 1’s day-to-day operations, including managing its budget and finances. He worked closely with Individual 1 to direct all aspects of Political Organization l’s political activities, including political expenditures.

10.    Individual 3 was a practicing attorney with ties to Political Organization 2, a nonprofit corporation that publicly advocated on legal and judicial issues.

11.    Individual 4 was a longtime financial supporter of KELSEY’S political career.

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Jacobs’ former top aide indicted on felony charge

Gov. Bill Lee, right, and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs meet at the state Capitol in Nashville on Feb. 4, 2019. (Photo: Gov. Bill Lee’s office)

Bryan Hair, who managed professional wrestler Glenn Jacobs’ successful campaign for Knox County mayor and later served as his chief of staff, has been indicted on a felony charge of official misconduct, the Knoxville Compass reports.

Brian Hair resigned last year after an investigation prompted in part by a public records request from the Compass about the misuse of public equipment and resources. They included Hair’s personal use of a county-owned golf cart and work done on his home by Parks and Recreation employees.

Hair did not return messages from the Compass seeking comment. He turned himself in to be booked on Thursday morning.

Jacobs, who wrestles under the name Kane, declined to comment. He told the Compass last winter that Hair’s resignation had been difficult for him, but necessary.

“I knew it had to be done, unfortunately,” Jacobs said. “On a personal level, yeah, it was really hard. Bryan’s a very good friend of mine, and he’s also a good person. And he made a mistake.”