Category Archives: local campaigns

Memphis, Nashville could pay penalty for pot decriminalization

If the Nashville and Memphis city councils move ahead with plans for modified marijuana decriminalization, state Rep. William Lamberth says he may move to stop sending state highway funding to the cities.

From The Tennessean:

Lamberth, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, said his potential bill would seek to halt state highway funds from cities that do not enforce criminal penalties outlined in state law. Funding would continue again if a violating city overturns their policy. This past year, the state set aside $129.1 million in highway funds for Shelby County and $119.5 million for Davidson County.

“That’s not a bill that I would want to file, but it’s a bill that I’m certainly willing to file if Nashville and Memphis continue down this extraordinarily reckless and unjust path,” he said. Continue reading

Registry board votes to review activities of Stand for Children PAC

The Registry of Election Finance board has taken the first step toward a hearing on allegations against the Stand for Children political action committee and several Nashville school board candidates it supported violated campaign finance laws, reports The Tennessean.

A complaint against the PAC was filed by Tennessee Citizens Action, which bills itself as promoting consumer rights and civic action.The complaint contends Stand for Children illegally coordinated its activities with several pro-charter school candidates during the election.

“My gut feeling is there is enough smoke to open up and look at it,” said Tom Lawless, chairman of the registry board. He added: “If they violated (the law), we need to be consistent. We don’t have to be punitive, we can be constructive.”

The complaint was filed Aug. 4, a day before Nashville’s school board elections, and cites a story by The Tennessean that details emails sent by the head of a prominent Nashville nonprofit that appear to show she coordinated with Stand for Children to find campaign workers for the four school board candidates.

It also cites a July 29 WSMV report that says Stand for Children Director Daniel O’Donnell met with candidate Thom Druffel during a 10-day mandatory blackout period before the election. Stand’s attorney said O’Donnell took a day off from work that day and was not in violation of the law.

Stephen Zralek, an attorney with Nashville law firm Bone McAllester Norton PLLC who represents Stand for Children, said the organization takes election ethics issues seriously and consistently follows the law.

“The Registry’s order is standard procedure whenever a complaint is filed. We look forward to answering the Registry’s questions and providing an accurate account of the facts,” he said in a Wednesday email.

Gerard Stranch, the attorney who filed the complaint, told the registry he thought it was clear that there was evidence Stand for Children exceeded campaign contribution limits by coordinating with candidates, and violated laws banning donations by a PAC within a “blackout period” in the days immediately leading up to the election.

Shelby County Democratic Party disbanded

The Shelby County Democratic Party was forcibly disbanded Friday, punctuating years of bitter in-fighting that have recently revolved around former chairman Bryan Carson, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Tennessee Democratic Party chairwoman Mary Mancini said she notified SCDP chairman Michael Pope in a letter Friday that she had chosen to “de-certify” the state’s largest county party, effectively disbanding it.

“Shelby County is very valuable to the Democratic party because there are some good and active Democrats in this county,” she said. “The decision was made because the Shelby County Democratic Party was not supporting, engaging and encouraging all those good and active Democrats.”

In the letter, she said the TNDP would work with local Democrats to “determine their own needs, evaluate the effectiveness of past bylaws and leadership, elect officers and executive committee members, and enact reforms that bring in new people and build a strong grassroots organization.”

Corey Strong, a state party executive committee member representing Memphis, said a party whose main purpose was to organize support around electing Democratic candidates had been rendered ineffective by internal issues, as displayed in past elections.

Most recently, county party members have quarrelled about how to handle allegations that former chairman Carson embezzled more than $25,000 in his tenure. At the direction of Mancini, SCDP chairman Pope approved a $6,000 settlement with Carson, even though the county executive committee had already approved a resolution to file charges against Carson, leading to shouting matches at recent committee meetings.

Strong said the party was being disbanded because it wasn’t “living up to its purpose.”

“This is not about an individual,” he said. “This is about a systemic inability to meet the party’s own charter and the minimum requirements of the state party.”

He said state executive committee members from Memphis were the ones who pushed Mancini to decertify the party because they didn’t want the party to “flounder on the local level.”

Carson and his mother, Gale Jones Carson, are both members of the state executive committee.

Strong said the party would be reorganized, possibly as early as November, under the supervision of local elected Democrats. The party’s money would be moved into a trust until the party is reconstituted. A meeting with party stakeholders is scheduled in two weeks, Mancini said.

On uncoordinated Stand for Children spending

Stand for Children’s two political action committees that are spending heavily in Tennessee campaigns this summer – more than $700,000 in the case of an independent expenditure group and about $130,000 in direct donations – tell the Nashville Scene’s Steve Cavendish they don’t coordinate efforts.

Excerpt from the article, entitled “Stop the Dark Money Now:”

So, I called Dan O’Donnell, the Nashville director for the organization, and asked him about the money (in particular a mailer attacking Nashville School Board incumbent Will Pinkston).

“I found out about that when you did,” he said, then went through an explanation. Stand for Children Tennessee PAC, which he works for, is completely separate from the Stand for Children Tennessee Independent Expenditure Committee. Even though O’Donnell’s PAC gave huge donations directly to the campaigns for Thom Druffel, Miranda Christy, Jackson Miller and Jane Grimes Meneely, there was absolutely no coordination between that money and the tens of thousands of dollars spent by a committee controlled by the national office of the same organization. An organization that shares national leadership. And money. And whose address on 18th Avenue South is exactly the same. And spent money on exactly the same candidates.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

I reached out to Krista Spurgin, who was responsible for the spending, which in the case of every candidate but Jackson Miller represented more money than the candidates were able to raise on their own.

“My current title is National Campaigns Director, but I am concurrently serving as the Stand for Children Tennessee IEC Chair,” Spurgin said. So a political operative in Denver, who shares the same leadership as the locals here in Tennessee, is directing hundreds of thousands of dollars into local school board races from a slush fund of charter advocates in Oregon.

If you don’t think this is an erosion of democracy, you’re not thinking about it hard enough. The current campaign finance system, which lets so-called social welfare organizations launder unlimited money from rich interests — in this case money from Walmart and Microsoft billionaires — into local races, is asinine. They are picking candidates who support their worldview and turning on a firehose of attack ads, direct mail and digital marketing.

Note: Previous related post HERE.

Stand for Children PAC dumps $700K into TN campaigns

Stand for Children, a political action committee focused on promotion on charter schools, sent more than $700,000 from its Portland, Ore., headquarters and then spent it attacking or supporting Tennessee candidates from July 1 through July 25, according to the group’s new disclosure statement.

The Tennessean has a report on the disclosure, focusing on $200,000 spent in Metro Nashville School Board races. But it also notes:

The organization also spent big in Republican primaries at the statehouse level.

Having already spent more than $65,000 on advertising and mailers in June in support of Sam Whitson — who’s running against embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham for a seat representing parts of Williamson County — the group spent another roughly $15,000 on fliers in July for Whitson. It also spent roughly $9,000 on ads and mailers attacking Durham.

They spent similar amounts either attacking Reps. Courtney L. Rogers and Judd Matheny or supporting their GOP primary opponents, Beth Cox and Will Lockhart.

Some further notes: It appears the biggest beneficiary is Christy Sigler, seeking the House District 34 seat vacated by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale. She’s listed as supported in independent expenditures totaling more than $120,000.

The blog Rocky Top Politics, published anonymously with a strong Republican right-wing inclination, had a recent post — before the new disclosure — declaring Stand for Children the “new Advance Tennessee.” Advance Tennessee got widespread conservative criticism in 2014 after six-figure spending in legislative races — the money coming mostly from supporters of Gov. Bill Haslam. Advance Tennessee dissolved in January of this year, according to the Registry of Election Finance.

Partisan sniping over Rutherford sheriff corruption indictment

An indicted Middle Tennessee sheriff says he has no intention of resigning despite calls for him to do so from Republican legislators and the state Democratic Party chairwoman declaring him an example of “Tennessee Republican corruption.”

Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold told the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro on Saturday that he has no intention of resigning and, in fact, plans to seek re-election in 2018. The sheriff, one of his top deputies and an uncle were indicted last week on multiple charges of fraud, conspiracy and other misconduct in connection with their alleged profits from a company that sold e-cigarettes to inmates at the county jail, which Arnold oversees.

Arnold was first elected in 2010, defeating the incumbent Democratic sheriff. His win — followed by re-election in 2014 — has been cited as an example in the Tennessee Republican Party’s “Red to the Roots” campaign, which officially got underway in 2013 with the goal of getting more Republicans elected to local office.

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini pounced on Arnold’s indictment and tied it to the “Red to the Roots” effort, declaring in a news release, “From Washington, D.C. to Murfreesboro, Tennessee Republicans’ corruption goes from the top all the way to their roots.

“From Sen. (Bob) Corker’s insider trading scandal to Gov. (Bill) Haslam awarding no-bid contracts to his friends to Sheriff Arnold using his position to line his own pockets, it’s clear Tennessee Republicans see our government as their personal piggy bank,” Mancini said.

On the other side of the aisle, Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the state GOP sent this rejoinder:

“Tennesseans expect their elected officials to conduct themselves with the highest ethical standards. That is apparently not what they’re getting in Rutherford County and that’s not right. That said, anyone with a basic understanding of our state’s history knows Democrats have the market cornered on corruption. From (former Gov. Ray) Blanton to (former state Sen. John) Ford to (sitting state Rep. Joe) Armstrong, the TNDP has a history of supporting some of Tennessee’s biggest mischief-makers. It would be refreshing if they’d clean up their own messes first. Instead this is more of the same hypocrisy we’ve become accustomed to with the Tennessee Democratic Party.”

Two Republican state senators who share representation of Rutherford County, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, have both called on Arnold to resign since the indictment.

Note: Relevant previous posts include those HERE and HERE.

TN homeland security chief makes ‘lunch hour’ political speech

David Purkey, Tennessee director of Homeland Security, may have violated state law by speaking at a May 13 campaign event for Bradley County Eric Watson, a former state representative, according to the Times-Free Press.

“I cannot imagine having anyone better professionally or personally in the office of sheriff for your county,” Purkey told a crowd that included the Cleveland and Bradley County mayors, at least one state representative and the district attorney, according to the Cleveland Daily Banner.

By law, state employees may not take part in political events while they are on state business. Purkey said he was on his lunch hour, but his speech was listed on his official daily schedule and the invitations described him as Homeland Security director.

,,,Purkey said that when he was invited during the legislative session to speak at the luncheon, he didn’t realize it was a campaign event. When he learned differently, he said, “I told them I would only do this on my lunch hour.”

Tennessee’s Little Hatch Act, modeled after federal law, says state employees may not “engage actively in a political campaign on behalf of any party, committee, organization, agency or political candidate, or to attend political meetings or rallies during those hours of the day when such person is required by law or administrative regulation to be conducting the business of the state.”

However, the law exempts employees “on leave or during those hours not required by law or administrative regulation to be conducting the business of the state.”

Purkey said officials appointed by the governor also are exempt, and he’s one of them.

“I’m not claiming an exemption based on that,” he said. “I’m saying that I made sure it was during my lunch hour on my way home to East Tennessee.”

His hometown, Morristown, is off Interstate 40 northeast of Knoxville. After accepting the speaking invitation, he added a visit to the Homeland Security office in Chattanooga to his itinerary, Purkey said.

Note: The article says the event may have violated other state laws as well — use of marked police cars and emergency vehicles for political purposes, law enforcement officers attending a political event … and the TFP says there are allegations that some county employees were pressured to donate to Watson’s reelection campaign.

Unicoi GOP won’t replace deceased nominee, leaves race to write-in candidates

The Unicoi County Republican party has decided against selecting a party nominee for the position of Assessor of Property oin the Aug. 4 election, reports the Erwin Record. The nominee would have replaced General Election ballot.

A nominee would have replaced Margaret Seward, who won the March 1 primary election but died on election day. Another candidate, Wayne Peterson, who was holding the position on an interim basis, died during early voting.

The party’s Executive Committee met at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse and unanimously voted not to place a candidate on the ballot; instead, allowing individuals interested in the office run as write-in candidates.

Debbie Tittle, the county’s register of deeds and the county party’s vice-chairman, motioned not to place a candidate on the ballot, saying, “… I think that this is still America; it is still a democracy and this ought to be in the hands of the people.”

Tittle’s motion was seconded by Terry Haynes, the county’s road superintendent and vice-president of the county party.

Both Tittle and Haynes voted in favor of her motion. Also voting yes were Executive Committee members Mitzi Bowen, Lynn Woodruff, Kent Harris, Sarah Sellars and Jim Buchanan, who chairs the committee.

From the Johnson City Press: Peterson’s assistant, Teresa Kinsler, now holds the interim property assessor title after being named by the commission on March 28. Commissioner John Moseley was the only opposing vote and Walter Garland was absent.

“She had been helping Peterson run the office for some time and she is now conducting a write-in campaign before we even made (this decision),” Buchanan said of Kinsler.

TNGOP ponders procedure for replacing deceased nominee

At the request of state Republican Party officials, a meeting to select the party’s nominee for Unicoi County property assessor has been postponed, reports the Johnson City Press.

The new nominee will replace Margret Seward, who won the primary election March 1 but died on election day. Another candidate, Wayne Peterson, had died during February early voting. A third candidate, Alan “Rocky” McInturff, finished second behind Seward and ahead of Peterson in the voting.

Jim Buchanan, chairman of the Unicoi County Republican Party, notified local media outlets Friday afternoon that Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee GOP, had instructed him to cancel a public meeting to select the candidate previously set for 9 a.m. Saturday.

…Leatherwood told the Johnson City Press that in addition to questions about the executive board’s makeup, the state party is seeking clarification of its own bylaws and state election laws on “minor procedural issues,” including the mandatory publication of an advertisement giving legal notice of the public meeting.

“We have a few questions that we would like to have clarification about,” Leatherwood said. “It being the nomination, we feel it is best, in due diligence, we have all our questions answered before proceeding through with the nomination.

“We are seeking clarification from our own general counsel, the state Election Coordinator and the District Attorney General.”

Leatherwood said the selection must be made within 40 days of the Aug. 4 election, giving the party ample time to clarify all procedures.

Referring to the deaths of Seward and Peterson, Leatherwood said, “It is a tragic situation and that is why we want to make sure we are doing our due diligence to make sure all proper procedures are followed.”

Unicoi candidate dies on election day, wins voting

Margaret Shelton Seward, a Republican candidate for property assessor in Unicoi County, died of a heart attack on election day, reports the Johnson City Press, but still collected more votes than two other candidates on the primary ballot.

One of the other candidates, Interim Property Assessor Wayne Peterson, died on Feb. 16, halfway through the county’s record-setting early voting period.

Seward, a longtime county employee who was employed by the County Clerk’s office at the time of her death and who previously worked in the assessor’s office, died just after midnight Tuesday at Unicoi County Memorial Hospital after suffering heart failure at her home.

Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey told the Johnson City Press after Peterson’s death that state law requires the county’s Republican party to select a candidate for the general election in the event the top vote-getter dies during the election. Bailey confirmed on Tuesday those rules will apply with Seward’s death and election victory on Tuesday.

Seward (had)… a 48 to 34 percent advantage over McInturff in Tuesday night’s final tally, with Seward earning 1,570 of the vote compared to 1,116 votes for McInturff and 560 votes for Peterson.

Unicoi County Republican Party Chairman Jim Buchanan said the party will meet sometime after the Election Commission certifies the results on March 17 to first determine how to the make selection.

Buchanan said he anticipated the party will entertain and discuss nominations and take a vote in the same meeting.