A Nashville businessman told the Registry of Election Finance board Wednesday that he had counted on others to join him in financing a political action committee and conceded that their failure to do so raised the appearance that he has violated state law.
Disclosures filed prior to the Aug. 2 primary election show Andrew Miller as the sole contributor to Truth Matters PAC. The PAC was created July 10 and Miller, president of HealthMark Ventures, gave it $71,000.
At the time, Miller as an individual had already given the $1,400 maximum contribution allowed under state law to eight candidates for the state Legislature. The PAC then gave contributions of up $7,100 to the eight candidates.
Recipients in East Tennessee included Reps. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Jeremy Faision, R-Cosby; along with Republican primary winning candidates Timothy Hill of Blountville and Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, told the Registry board that his staff believed the moves raised the question of whether Miller used the PAC as an illegal “conduit” to circumvent the limits on how much money can be given to candidates.
Miller and his brother, Tracy, who served as the PAC’s treasurer, both appeared at Wednesday’s Registry meeting. After a lengthy discussion, the board voted to postpone any action against Miller or the PAC until Oct. 23, giving him a chance to consult with an attorney and provide more information.
Miller told the group that friends had told him they would donate to the PAC, but they had not done so in July and he decided to go ahead with PAC donations because the election date was approaching with “a short fuse” and he wanted to get donations in favored candidate hands.
He said some of those who had pledged money would be willing to provide statements to the Registry backing up his assertion. His brother was among those who planned to join in providing money, he said, but was busy with settling their mother into an assisted living facility.
Registry members cited the prospect of statements from those who had planned to donate, but did not, as one reason for delaying a decision on whether Miller should be penalized.
Since the election, Miller said the PAC has received $49,500 in new funding from four donations.
Henry Fincher, a member of the Registry and Cookeville lawyer, told Miller the transactions appear to be an illegal conduit and he was inclined to vote for levying penalties against him.
“I’m not saying you’re a bad guy for what you’ve done. But you jumped the gun,” said Fincher.
But Lee Ann Murray of Nashville, also an attorney and member of the Registry board, said she believed acting as an illegal conduit required an intent to circumvent the law and, if Miller can produce evidence to back up his claim of reliance on others for money that did not appear, that could show a lack of intent.