More on Strong and Free Tennessee PAC

The Tennessean has a report on the doings of Strong and Free Tennessee, a PAC apparently established to help elect establishment Republicans win seats on the state GOP’s Executive Committee and defeat their more conservative opponents with the help of secret contributors.

The Registry of Election Finance Board has dismissed one complaint alleging that the PAC – represented by Nashville attorney/lobbyist Gif Thornton — operated illegally while leaving another complaint hanging after asking Thornton to provide more information. (Previous post HERE.)

“You ought to be ashamed!” yelled Ruth Fennell at Thornton as he walked away (from the Registry meeting).

Fennell recently lost a bid to become a member of the GOP’s State Executive Committee. State Executive Committees, or SECs, are relatively obscure political entities. Although Democrats and Republicans have the committees, and the committees have several functions, perhaps their most important task is electing a party chairman.

Fennell and her compatriots are convinced the GOP establishment used money and campaign materials from Strong & Free Tennessee to target critics within the party for defeat in the August primary in order to sustain control of the party.

…Republican leadership essentially says the critics are tilting at GOP-establishment windmills. Chairman Chris Devaney noted the party’s bylaws prohibit it from taking sides in contested primaries.

…There are certainly a few questions about Strong & Free Tennessee. The organization consists of a PAC and a non-profit, both created earlier this year. The only donation the PAC officially reported receiving was a $35,000 contribution from the non-profit — there’s no list of the names of actual donors. Critics argue the expenditures the group reported — about $27,000 — clearly couldn’t account for the cost of mailers Strong & Free Tennessee used to campaign in more than 25 state executive committee races.

The only known officer for the PAC is David “Blake” Lay, a Republican and the former mayor of Lawrenceburg. The PAC is registered to an address of a business in Lawrenceburg that at one point had a “Blake Lay” as CEO; the business, InSyte Solutions Inc., was administratively dissolved in August of 2013, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State.

The phone number listed for the business is out of service, and The Tennessean couldn’t find contact information for Lay. Thornton said he speaks for Lay.

A phone number listed for the PAC on the state campaign finance website belongs to Troy Brewer, a GOP finance consultant who recently lost his race against Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell for House District 50 in Nashville. Critics say Brewer’s connection is evidence of GOP party affiliation; Thornton said Brewer did some work for the PAC, but it might’ve been on a volunteer basis. Devaney said Brewer is a contract employee with the state GOP who’s not obligated to tell the party his other clients. Brewer didn’t return a phone message.

Outgoing state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lacassas, also specifically mentioned the PAC this week as a reason he’s challenging Devaney for the chairmanship.