By Eric Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Republicans on Wednesday called on former Democratic state Rep. Henry Fincher to resign from the Registry of Election Finance, saying he still owes his campaign account more than $34,000.
Fincher, who lost a re-election bid to the state House last year, was named to the campaign finance panel’s board by the lower chamber’s Democratic caucus.
“We are baffled by the fact that the Democrats see no conflict with appointing a former state representative with an active campaign account and outstanding debt to a board that is commissioned to enforce campaign finance laws,” said GOP spokesman Adam Nickas.
Fincher, a Cookeville attorney, said he has no intention of stepping down. He said he would recuse himself if his own campaign account ever became an issue. He said he loaned the money to his campaign during his first run for office in 2006.
“I’ve made some repayments over the years,” he said. “But there’s not exactly people lining up to give to a former representative.”
Fincher served on the registry’s board before his two terms in the House, including a stint as chairman.
While on the panel, Fincher sought rule changes that he said would prevent political action committees, like one operated by Sen. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, to circumvent contribution limits.
In that 2003 case, Democrats on the panel questioned whether it was legal for the committee called RAAMPAC to take a large contribution from a donor who had already given the maximum to a candidate, and then give more money to the same candidate.
The case was ultimately dropped after an attorney general’s opinion said the PAC followed the letter of the law. Fincher at the time lamented that “the sad lesson of RAAMPAC is that you can get around that intent under our current law.”
Ramsey has since been elected speaker of the Senate and Mark Goins, the unsuccessful candidate who received the contributions, is now the state’s election coordinator.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said Wednesday that he and his colleagues chose Fincher because of his experience, and questioned the Republicans’ motivations for criticizing the appointment.
“They’re probably worried about him being too tough and too diligent in making sure it’s done right,” said Turner.
Fincher said Wednesday that he hasn’t decided whether his political career is over.
“I haven’t ruled out anything, but I’m enjoying being back to the private practice of law,” he said.