Black backer files complaint against attack ad sponsor

A supporter of U.S. Rep. Diane Black has filed a federal complaint against an organization led by conservative activist Steve Gill that has bankrolled a series of negative ads targeting Black in her 6th Congressional District race against challenger Joe Carr, reports the Tennessean. The group has also been running radio ads attacking candidates in the 8th Congressional District GOP primary.

In a complaint filed last week with the Federal Election Commission, Michael Zinser, an attorney from Gallatin, alleged that the 501(c)(4) organization Power of Liberty – whose donors remain secret – has produced ads that constitute “electioneering communications” because they fell within one-month of the Aug. 4. None of that activity, however, has been disclosed with the FEC, according to the complaint.

Gill, a former conservative radio talk show host and Power of Liberty’s registered agent, has said the group is an “issue advocacy” nonprofit organization and therefore does not have to disclose its donors and expenditures with the FEC. Instead, Gill has said Power of Liberty would be filing how much it raised with the IRS next year but that it won’t include a list of donors.

But the complaint details more than $67,000 in radio advertising that Zinser says Power of Liberty has purchased through Aug. 3, this Wednesday, that mention Black by name.

Election Day is Thursday. Under federal law, radio or TV communications that clearly identify a federal candidate are considered electioneering. Sources of funding of this type of communications must be disclosed within 24 hours, according to federal law, when it exceeds $10,000 and occurs within 30 days of a primary.

The group’s ads in Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District race, both on radio and via mail, have criticized Black as being part of the “Washington establishment,” among other charges, but they don’t say to vote for Carr or against Black.

Zinser, who told The Tennessean that he supports Black in her Republican primary race against Carr, has asked the FEC to investigate the allegation and impose all appropriate penalties.

In addition to advertising that has targeted Black, Power of Liberty has also paid for ads that have attacked 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.

Gill, reached by The Tennessean, said he wasn’t surprised by the FEC complaint, calling it a “desperate” response from a candidate in a tough political race.

“We’ve seen them file frivolous lawsuits in the Diane Black versus Lou Ann Zelenik races,” Gill said, referring to Black’s first congressional race six years ago and reelection two years later. “At the end of a campaign, the Blacks tend to go to litigation and filing complaints. That’s unfortunately what they do in close races rather than taking their case to the voters.”