In his latest campaign finance disclosure, state Sen. Stacey Campfield lists former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale as providing an in-kind contribution valued at $1,000 to Campfield’s re-election campaign.
That’s because, Campfield said in an interview Wednesday, Ragsdale was reported as giving $100 to Richard Briggs, who has announced he will oppose the incumbent senator in next year’s Republican primary. In-kind contributions are those made other than in cash or check. Typically, they involve things like furnishing food for a reception or providing a room rent-free for a campaign event. Campfield says he believes Ragsdale, by donating to Briggs, effectively made an even bigger contribution to his campaign.
“I think it was a gift to me that he was endorsing my opponent,” Campfield said. “I’d honestly say that’s worth $1,000 to me. … Most people know the things that Mike Ragsdale represented and supported when he was in office … (and) that’s a clear distinction between my opponent and me.”
The disclosure form has a space for providing the occupation of each person making a contribution. As Ragsdale’s occupation, Campfield wrote, “Takeout lobster sales, Jays Megga (sic) Mart.”
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, says his office will treat the entry as an error and will be sending Campfield a letter asking that he correct it.
If he declines, Rawlins said, the entry could be considered filing false information on a campaign disclosure and put Campfield at risk of a civil penalty that could range as high as $10,000.
First of all, Rawlins said, an in-kind contribution requires a willing donor and Ragsdale apparently was not.
“I don’t think you can unknowingly make an in-kind contribution,” said the veteran overseer of Tennessee campaign contributions. But he acknowledged, “This is a new one for me.”
Second, he said, the reported occupation of Ragsdale appears to be false and that would clearly be intentionally providing false information if not corrected.
Asked about this, Campfield said, “Maybe I was under some confusion from previous stories about (Ragsdale).”
During Ragsdale’s tenure as Knox County mayor, there was a controversy over his administration’s use of county purchasing cards. On one occasion, a card was used to buy $227.56 worth of takeout lobster for lunch. Other questioned purchases occurred at Jays Mega Mart.
“This does not appear to be an in-kind contribution or a transaction that should be reported on your campaign disclosure,” says the letter, sent Wednesday. “Please review this transaction and amend your report.”
Ragsdale, who now is a partner in the consulting firm of Tennessee Strategies LLC, laughed when asked for comment.
“I’m actually very fond of Stacey. When he supported my opponent in my election as mayor, he guaranteed I could raise a lot of money … and he helped me have an overwhelming election victory,” Ragsdale said. “On a more serious note, I wouldn’t want to be listed on Stacey Campfield’s disclosure even in jest.”
Campfield said he probably will file an amendment to his disclosure form, but will await arrival of the Registry of Election Finance letter before deciding.
“I don’t want to do anything wrong,” he said.
The disclosure otherwise shows Campfield collected $1,185 in direct contributions during the first six months of this year, spent $2,137 and had a campaign balance of $10,434. Briggs disclosure for the same period, as reported earlier, showed $51,157 in contributions; $7,479 in expenditures and a balance of $43,677.
Briggs declined comment, remarking, “I don’t know what to say about that.”