registry

Ex-girlfriend testifies Cothren had her register PAC that attacked Casada foe Tillis

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony ouside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tenenssee Journal)

In remarkable sworn testimony to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on Thursday, the treasurer of a mysterious political action committee testified she had registered the outfit at the behest of her then-boyfriend, Cade Cothren, and had nothing further to do with it thereafter.

“I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him,” said Sydney Friedopfer, a former Vanderbilt student who now lives in Utah. “And he said no. And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through.”

The Family Faith Freedom Fund PAC was involved in attacking then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg), a foe of Cothren and his former boss, House Speaker Glen Casada, in the 2020 primary won by now-Rep. Todd Warner. (Just as a reminder, Cothren, Casada, Warner, and Rep. Robin Smith had their homes and offices searched by the FBI around this time last year).

Here is a transcript of Friedopfer’s testimony to the Registry on Thursday. The other speakers are Registry chair Paige Burcham Dennis, general counsel Lauren Topping, executive director Bill Young, and members Tom Lawless, David Golden, and Hank Fincher.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Miss Sydney, are you on the phone today?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, I am.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, before we get to you. I want to remind you, we’re going to have Lauren, give us a little bit of background on the Faith Family Freedom Fund case. But I do want to remind you that you are under oath today even though you’re participating by phone.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK, yep, no problem.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. Lauren, can you give the Registry a little bit of background on what’s going on with the Faith Family Freedom Fund case?

Lauren Topping: So as you’ll recall, this case came about as a result of a complaint that was filed with the Registry. As a result of that, there was an audit that was ordered. Up until this point in time, we had been unable to reach Ms. Friedopfer. And so the audit report basically says that we were unable to obtain any information. I think that’s all in your packet. But since then, we have been able to contact her and so she is here on the line today to tell you what she knows. So that’s kind of where we are.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, so at this time, Sydney, I understand you’re in Utah. Is that correct?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, that’s correct.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. I’m Chairman Burcham Dennis, and we’re going to let you tell us what you would like to tell us concerning the case.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK. So I guess I don’t have the exact date, sometime in end of 2019, early 2020. I had a friend of mine that I met when I was back at Vanderbilt ask me to open a political action committee for him. I was advised that I should tell you the name. The name is Cade Cothren. And I trusted him.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Could you repeat that? His name was what?

Sydney Friedopfer: Cade Cothren.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK.

Sydney Friedopfer: Being a 22, 23-year-old at the time, I, unfortunately, did not have any information about politics. I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him. And he said no. And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through, which I’m sure everyone’s aware. But yeah, he resigned from his position as chief of staff to Glen Casada. And he didn’t want his name on the political action committees. Like being young and dumb, honestly, regarding this, I –

Paige Burcham Dennis: So Sydney, you had an involvement, a relationship or friendship, with him. And he asked you to do this on his behalf. That’s what you’re saying?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes. I mean, yeah. At the time, I thought I loved him, I guess. But I was young and he’s 10 years older than me. And I trusted him. And so I opened the political action committee for him. And I filed the papers, signed my name, and that was the last I heard of it. I received the e-filing thing in the mail. And I just sent him a picture of that. And he took over from there. And I didn’t hear about it again until a reporter started calling me. But the first time I had anyone call me from a reputable source that I was going to talk to was when Lauren called me a few weeks ago.

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New TNJ edition alert: Durham attorney targets Registry, committee changes in House

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In this week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— Registry on trial? Durham lawyer blames ‘scorched-earth’ treatment for record fine.

— House holds redistricting meeting, but big decisions remain a ways off.

— Lawmaker no longer on House Government Operations after diatribes over COVID-19 policies.

— House GOP lands big haul at caucus fundraiser.

Also: Katrina Robinson’s federal fraud trial gets underway next week, Gov. Bill Lee says he is vaccinated and acting like it, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper ruminates on the passage of time in the General Assembly, and the return of Chick-fil-A at the Tennessee Tower has Capitol denizens rejoicing.

Access the your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

Lawmaker searched by FBI misses campaign finance deadline

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 of Chapel Hill, one of three Republican House members to have their homes and offices searched by the FBI earlier this month, did not file a fourth-quarter campaign finance report by Monday’s deadline.

The other subjects of the searches, Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin and Robin Smith of Hixson, filed their personal campaign and PAC disclosures on time.

Warner in an email to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance said he was unable to complete his disclosure due to the raids.

“The FBI confiscated all files and documents related to my campaign including check copies from donations and checking account ledgers,” Warner said in the email obtained by The Tennessee Journal. “They also took all computers and back ups for the campaign and my business.”

Warner defeated Rep. Rick Tillis of Lewisburg in the Republican primary in August. The Tillis camp filed a complaint alleging coordination between Warner and an independent expenditure group calling itself Faith Freedom Family Fund because they used the same postal code. The account out of Chattanooga also sent mail for a new vendor called Phoenix Solutions, which ended up getting more than $200,000 worth of business from House Republicans last cycle.

Several House members have said Smith was a major proponent of first using Phoenix Solutions. She has declined to answer reporters’ questions about whether she has any financial ties to the outfit.

Judge slashes Jeremy Durham’s campaign finance fines by 75%

A judge has slashed ousted state Rep. Jeremy Durham’s record campaign fine by 75%, The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports.

The Franklin Republican had been hit with $465,000 in fines in 2017 for a series of violations. Administrative Law Judge Steve Darnell in a ruling dated Friday that Durham should instead have to pay $110,000 in fines.

The Registry of Election Finance does not have have an “an unbridled right to dole out civil penalties,” Darnell wrote. The panel had not proven that Durham had spent money on items like sunglasses and dry-cleaning in an inappropriate way. The judge also said campaign money the former lawmaker spent on his handgun carry permit and continuing legal education could have been considered legitimate expenditures.

Darnell also found nothing wrong with Durham’s investment of $100,000 in campaign funds into a company owned by conservative donor Andy Miller Jr. or a $30,000 loan to a professional gambler. The legislature only subsequently banned that sort of spending of campaign funds, the judge said.

The House voted 70-2 in 2016 to expel Durham after a state attorney general’s investigation detailed allegations of serial sexual misconduct.