‘Dark money’ ads target Black, Luttrell, Kelsey, Greer

Attack ads from a group with secret donors are targeting candidates in two congressional Republican primaries in Tennessee, reports The Tennessean. One of the targets, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, is calling on opponent Joe Carr to have the “dark money group” reveal donors.

Power of Liberty’s registered agent is Tennessee conservative activist Steve Gill, who said the group is a 501(c)(4), an Internal Revenue Service designation for “social welfare” nonprofit organizations that — unlike Super PACs — aren’t required to disclose their donors.

In addition to launching radio and mail ads attacking Black in Tennessee’s 6th congressional GOP primary, Power of Liberty has also released negative ads targeting Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and businessman Brad Greer. All three are candidates in West Tennessee’s crowded 8th congressional district Republican primary to replace departing U.S. Rep. Steve Fincher.

…In a statement, Black spokesman Jonathan Frank said that Carr, a former state representative, should call on Power of Liberty to release its donors.

“The issue in this race is that this dark money group is spending more money than Joe Carr is raising on his own,” Frank said. “For all practical purposes, this group is his campaign; he has little in the way of support from across the district. Joe should ask this group to disclose its donors to leave no doubt among voters where his support is coming from.”

…Gill, who is working for multiple Republican candidates in Tennessee this election cycle, called Power of Liberty an “issue advocacy” group, likening the organization’s efforts to the right-wing Americans For Prosperity, which has opposed a gas tax and Medicaid expansion, among other agenda items at the Tennessee legislature.

“The issues (of Power of Liberty) are all the same stuff that we’ve been pushing for a long time — the illegal immigration issues, government elitism, tax policies,” Gill said. “It’s the same conservative stuff that I do all the time.”

…Gill said Power of Liberty might make an advertising play in Tennessee’s 4th congressional district race between U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and challenger Grant Starrett, as well as a race in Virginia that he did not identify. He also said Power of Liberty played a role in helping organize the rollout of a new “Blue Lives Matter” effort — a state legislative push from multiple Republican lawmakers to pass legislation to increase penalties for assaulting, killing and attempting to kill law enforcement officers in Tennessee.

…Kelsey, one of 13 candidates running in the 8th congressional district, has been targeted by both mail and radio ads paid for by Power of Liberty. The mail piece criticizes his vote in 2015 in favor of in-state tuition at public universities and colleges for undocumented immigrants.

“As illegals continue to pour across our open borders, Senator Brian Kelsey has a simple a plan to deal with illegal immigration: Send illegal immigrants to college and send Tennessee taxpayers the bill!” the ads reads.

Kelsey told The Tennessean that he regrets that vote, but like the Black campaign, he said the 501(c)(4) organization should reveal its donors.

“I fully support the free speech of this group, but I think they should disclose who’s funding it,” Kelsey said.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:

Two of the other leading candidates in the Republican primary, David Kustoff of Germantown and George Flinn of Memphis, said they have not donated to the group and know little about it.

Flinn said he hadn’t seen any advertisements, including Power of Liberty’s.

“I don’t understand, but I seem to be isolated from it all and I don’t know what’s going on,” Flinn said.

News release from the Joe Carr campaign
SIXTH DISTRICT, TENN. (JULY 14, 2016) – In a statement to the Tennessean yesterday, Diane Black’s campaign called on Joe Carr to, “ask this group (Power of Liberty) to disclose its donors.”

“The Black campaign is well aware, or perhaps they need a civics lesson, that the Carr campaign may not collaborate with Power of Liberty, per campaign finance regulations. Furthermore, it is inappropriate for them to make such a request. Power of Liberty is not the Carr campaign, practical purposes or otherwise, as the Black campaign so ignorantly claimed. The real issues in this race are: the debt and deficit, Obamacare, illegal immigration, and a whole host of other issues that Diane Black refuses to debate. Diane Black should focus on the issues she was elected to address instead of obfuscating her record,” said Joe Carr.

Joe Carr additionally stated that, “it sounds like Diane Black is channeling her inner Lois Lerner with this absurd request.” Former IRS employee, Lois Lerner, targeted nearly 600 conservative groups who were seeking 501(c)(4) status in an attempt to obtain their donor lists. “This request is nothing more than a stunt for Diane Black to acquire the donor list of a group that accurately portrays her voting record in an unflattering light and to distract constituents from her voting record.” said Joe Carr.

Joe Carr went on to state that, “it is not surprising that Diane Black would get such an idea from the IRS. The Carr campaign has no intention of complying with Diane Black’s ridiculous request to ask Power of Liberty (who we have no association with) to release the names of their donors. Perhaps Diane Black wants to discuss a real issue by publically explaining her reasoning behind filing H.R. 4141, which gives more power and authority to the IRS to determine who can prepare tax returns.” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4141) According to FEC documents, Diane Black received $1,000 on September 29, 2015 and again on November 19, 2015 from H&R Block’s PAC (BLOCKPAC), who would ostensibly benefit from such a bill. H.R. 4141 was then filed on December 1, 2015. After the bill was filed, Diane Black received a third check on January 1, 2015 for $3,000 from BLOCKPAC, according to FEC documents.