Complaint against PAC in intra-Republican fight dismissed, controversy continutes

State campaign regulators on Wednesday dismissed one of two complaints against a controversial political action committee that spent $27,467 helping candidates in 29 contested August races for the state Republican State Executive Committee, reports the Chattanooga TFP.

But Republican critics later denounced the Registry of Election Finance’s action as a “cover up” of activities by the Strong and Free Tennessee PAC and an affiliated group, Strong & Free Tennessee Inc., which provided the PAC with $35,000.

State Executive Committee member Mark Winslow charged both groups’ activities were part of an effort to help Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney of Lookout Mountain win reelection to his post by the 66-member executive committee next month.

“The people involved in this — it is my contention — have very close ties to the Tennessee Republican Party, the chairman of the [party] and this was an effort to remove people who were not supportive,” Winslow told reporters following the hearing.

Devaney, who is seeking his third, full two-year term, has disavowed any connection with the Strong & Free groups.

But Winslow, a former state party executive director, said paperwork shows the party’s comptroller, Troy Brewer, was involved.

Winslow said Devaney has “been exceptionally disinterested in getting to the bottom of this. He repeatedly claims he doesn’t know anyting about this. But the fellow who’s filing the form [Brewer] has an office down the hall from him.

…Devaney later said in a statement that the “Tennessee Republican Party was not involved with this organization. Troy Brewer is not an employee of the TNGOP. He is a contracted consultant who works for a variety of political clients in Tennessee. As an accounting consultant, he is not required to divulge his other clients to us.”

…The PAC and corporation’s activities are already serving as fuel by the two challengers to Devaney in the chairman’s race. Joe Carr, who ran unsuccessfully from the right against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in the Aug. 7 GOP primary and executive committee member Karen Bennett have both cited concerns about Strong & Free Tennessee. Bennett attended Wednesday’s Registry hearing.

Registry members dismissed one complaint against the Strong & Free Tennessee PAC on paperwork it filed after complaints this summer from at least one executive committee candidate, Ruth Fennell of Gallatin, that it was not properly registered.

The dismissal came came after the group’s attorney, Gif Thornton, said proper paperwork was later filed with the state and two county election commissions.

Thornton said there was no intent to hide or mislead the public on the PAC’s late registration..

The filing shows Strong & Free Tennessee Inc., which does not have to disclose its funders, contributed $35,000 to the PAC on July 25. It was the PAC’s sole source of funding listed in its pre-election report, which is dated July 31 on the Registry’s webiste.

Yet, Strong & Free Inc. did not receive coporate status from the Tennessee Secretary of State until until Aug. 2, records show.