Herron laments ‘dark money’ in ‘smear campaigns’ against TN Democratic legislators

News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Washington, D.C.-based dark money groups calling themselves “Advance Tennessee” and “Tennessee Federation for Children” are pouring big money into a last-minute smear campaigns against Tennessee Democrats running for reelection to the State House.

“A handful of out-of-control millionaires wants to sling mud at Tennessee’s elected leaders while hiding behind a D.C. mail box. They refuse to say who they are or what they stand for. How slimy can you get?” said Roy Herron, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. “This group has poured massive amounts of money into Tennessee legislative races in the last ten days and it won’t be clear for months, if ever, who paid for the ads.”

Advance Tennessee first reared its head in this year’s GOP primaries with more than $100,000 in negative TV ads against eight rightwing Republican incumbents who identified with the Tea Party, the notorious uber conservative group primarily funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers. Now, the group, in concert with the Tennessee GOP, is helping to target at least four Democrats: Rep. Bo Mitchell of western Davidson County, Rep. Darren Jernigan of eastern Davidson County, Rep. David Shepard who represents Dickson, Hickman and Maury Counties, and Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville.

“These groups shows a complete lack of consistency and coherence in either message or targets, which just goes to show you how cowardly and dishonest the attacks are. They’re just throwing mud at the wall and hoping something sticks,” said Herron.

The TV spots are now airing in the Nashville and Knoxville markets. Because of the way independent expenditures are reported it is impossible to say with confidence how much is being spent against individual candidates. In the Nashville market there could be as much as $180,000 being spent on television by the two groups. Tens of thousands more have apparently been placed on television stations in Knoxville.

In some cases the ads have a disclaimer for Advance Tennessee. In other cases, the exact same ad will run with a disclaimer for a group called the Tennessean Coalition for Children.

On paperwork filed with the stations a company in Sherman Oaks, California, Target Enterprises, filed a letter of authorization to represent Advance Tennessee and provided as its address 511 Pennsylvania Ave SE #267, Washington DC 20003. The address appears to be a UPS store in Washington D.C. where at least one other Republican political committee has an address. The New York Majority Fund 2014 has this exact same address.

On paperwork filed with the stations the Tennessee Federation for Children PAC lists as its address 1660 L St. NW, Suite 1000, Washington DC 20036. Lisa Lisker is listed as the treasurer at 228 S. Washington St. Suite 115, Alexandria, VA. 22314. The DC address is the same as a nest of pro charter school groups including the Alliance for School Choice and the American Federation for Children. The Alexandria address is shared by a company called Leadership PACS, Incorporated and Huckaby Davis Lisker, a DC-based accounting firm representing political action committees for Republican Party candidates and entities.

The treasurer of Advance Tennessee, according to an article by Andy Sher in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and recent filings with television stations is Caleb Crosby who is also treasurer of Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC.

According to Sher’s article, several well-heeled Tennesseans contributed to Advance Tennessee earlier this year. It is not clear they contributed the money for this current effort although one family, the Ingram family in Nashville, is known to support charter schools. Two members of that family contributed to Advance Tennessee earlier this year.

“Advance Tennessee and the Tennessee Federation for Children are trying to hide their true agenda but it is clear they both have connections to a handful of millionaires who support charter school programs. Their ultimate goal is to raid our state’s education funds and hand those public tax dollars over to private school operators who are pocketing huge profits from our public school tax dollars,” said Herron.

“You won’t hear a word about charter schools in their advertising, of course, because they have no interest in being honest or transparent. They just want to muddy the waters with a dark money smear campaign at the last minute before Tennesseans head to the polls,” Herron said.

Only two of the eight rightwing Republicans targeted by Advance Tennessee earlier this year were defeated in the primaries.

“The good news is that the people behind Advance Tennessee and Tennessee Federation for Children are clueless how to develop a coherent argument or how to connect with Tennessee voters. They don’t know how to do anything but throw hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of crass and cowardly negative television ads,” said Herron. “The Tennessee GOP has outsourced its cowardly attack ads to these outside groups. I have faith and confidence that the voters of Tennessee can see through these last-minute attacks and reject these dark money campaigns.”

Apparent sloppy research by the ad firm that produced one ad for both Advance Tennessee and Tennessee Federation for Children may have landed the groups in hot water when they made a factual error in a commercial targeting State Representative Bo Mitchell.

Mitchell filed a lawsuit against Tennessee Federation for Children last week. The lawsuit might provide an opportunity to puncture the veil of secrecy around the Tennessee Federation for Children the group paid for ads against Mitchell that are demonstrably false. The lawsuit could be expanded to include the second group.