Registry Dismisses ‘Conduit’ Charges Against Two PACs

The board that enforces Tennessee’s campaign finance law voted Tuesday against imposing any penalties in two cases where political action committees were accused of illegally sidestepping limits on how much money can be given to candidates for the state Legislature.
In one case, Andrew Miller Jr., a Nashville businessman, set up Truth Matters PAC in July and gave it $71,000. The PAC then contributed to 10 legislative campaigns, including eight that had already received the maximum allowable donation from Miller as an individual.
Registry of Election Finance staff had raised the possibility that the PAC had been used as an illegal “conduit,” allowing Miller to bypass the limits on campaign contributions he could give the candidates as an individual.
Miller, attorney James Weaver and Tracy Miller, Andrew’s brother and treasurer of the PAC, told the Registry board they could understand the suspicion. But they said that, looking outside the “snapshot” period of the covered by the Truth Matters’ first report, the PACs activities showed Miller had obtained pledges of contributions from others before the filing and they did, in fact, contribute to the PAC after the filing.
“If I’m guilty of anything, it’s getting in a rush,” said Miller, referring to his failure to wait until others contributed to the PAC before sending PAC donations to candidates he supported.
Registry board member Lee Anne Murray said she understood that an intent to bypass campaign limits was necessary to impose a penalty and the statements by Miller and a man who intended to contribute earlier showed their was no intent to act as a conduit. Member Henry Fincher disagreed, saying the PAC had actually acted as a conduit bypassing campaign donation limits though Miller appeared “a nice guy” who was not trying to act illegally.
Fincher said that :when the next guy, who is not so nice,” does the same thing, he will be able to argue as a precedent, “Well, Andy Miller did it. Why not I?”
The board voted 4-2 against imposing any penalties. The board’s newest member, Norma Lester of Memphis, joined Fincher in voting no on the motion to dismiss.
In the other case, Green PAC was set up by Mark Green, a candidate for state Senate from Clarksville. The PAC had three donors – Green making a $250 contribution and two other men making a total of $8,000 in donations. The PAC then donated $8,000 to Green, the only candidate to get a contribution during the PAC’s first reporting period.
Rachel Barrett, treasurer of the PAC, told the Registry that Green PAC received contributions from other people after the reporting period and also gave money to multiple candidates later. Only Fincher voted no on the motion to dismiss a complaint that had been filed by Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

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