The $12 million in secret donations funneled from two new Tennessee companies to the FreedomWorks super PAC (most recent previous post HERE) grew out of an internal feud within the tea party-oriented PAC, the Washington Post reports.
The mystery donation involves Richard J. Stephenson, described as “a reclusive Illinois millionaire,” and Richard K. “Dick” Armey, a former House majority leader ousted as FreedomWorks chairman in a September “coup” wherein a pistol was produced at one point. Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey’s agreement to leave the group.
The episode illustrates the growing role of wealthy donors in swaying the direction of FreedomWorks and other political groups, which increasingly rely on unlimited contributions from corporations and financiers for their financial livelihood. Such gifts are often sent through corporate shells or nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose their donors, making it impossible for the public to know who is funding them.
In the weeks before the election, more than $12 million in donations was funneled through two Tennessee corporations to the FreedomWorks super PAC after negotiations with Stephenson over a preelection gift of the same size, according to three current and former employees with knowledge of the arrangement. The origin of the money has not previously been reported.
These and other new details about the near-meltdown at FreedomWorks were gleaned from interviews with two dozen current and past associates, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely.
…According to public records, FreedomWorks received more than $12 million before the election from two corporations based in Knoxville, Tenn.: Specialty Investments Group and Kingston Pike Development. The firms were established within a day of each other by William S. Rose III, a local bankruptcy lawyer.
Rose, who could not be reached for comment, has said publicly he would not answer questions about the donations. But according to three current and former FreedomWorks employees with knowledge of the donations, the money originated with Stephenson and his family, who arranged for the contributions from the Tennessee firms to the super PAC.
Brandon, FreedomWorks’ executive vice president, told colleagues starting in August that Stephenson would be giving between $10 million and $12 million, these sources said. Brandon also met repeatedly with members of Stephenson’s family who were involved in arranging the donations, the sources said.
Stephenson attended a FreedomWorks retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in August at which a budget was being prepared in anticipation of a large influx of money, according to several employees who attended the retreat. At the retreat, Stephenson dictated some of the terms of how the money would be spent, the employees said.
“There is no doubt that Dick Stephenson arranged for that money to come to the super PAC,” said one person who attended the retreat. “I can assure you that everyone around the office knew about it.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Members of Hamilton County’s state legislative delegation say they’re mulling a request from county commissioners to allow local whiskey distilling.
State Rep. JoAnne Favors, a Democrat from Chattanooga, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/11FVoPn ) she believes at least five members of the seven-member delegation will support including the county in a recently-passed statute. State Rep. Richard Floyd, a Chattanooga Republican, said last week he remains adamantly opposed.
The brand Chattanooga Whiskey is currently distilled under contract in Indiana because Hamilton County requested to not be included when the statute passed in 2009.
Delegation chairman Rep. Bo Watson, a Republican, said he wants any inclusion limited to areas where voters have already approved liquor by the drink and package sales referendums.
A once-famed Knox County judge who spent 19 years sending criminals to prison now faces his own stint behind bars, reports Jamie Satterfield. A 10-woman, two-man jury in U.S. District Court on Friday deemed already disgraced former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner guilty of five of six federal charges of lying to cover up his pill-supplying mistress’ role in a drug conspiracy.
The convictions immediately cost Baumgartner his state pension.
He faces a March 27 sentencing hearing at which federal prosecutors are expected to seek the maximum three-year sentence he faces on each count, although U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said Friday it is unlikely U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer would stack each of the five sentences onto the other.
Democrat Frank Eaton, who faces state Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, in the upcoming election, says he supports allowing businesses in Hamilton County to distill liquor, reports the Chattanooga TFP. “We can already legally sell and responsibly drink a product with Chattanooga’s name on it right here in Hamilton County. ‘Chattanooga Whiskey’ should be made in Chattanooga,” the 27th Legislative District candidate said in a news release.
A 2009 state law lets county commissions approve distillation of spirits in counties where referendums have been approved allowing liquor-by-the-drink sales and package-store sales.
Hamilton County currently is excluded from the law.
The owners of Chattanooga Whiskey have said they want to produce their whiskey in Chattanooga instead of having it made in Indiana, where it’s now produced.
Citing his convictions and concerns about the impact of alcohol on driving, Floyd has said he opposes local whiskey manufacturing.
“I tell you alcohol kills more people every year than all illegal drugs put together,” Floyd has said. “People who make it [alcohol], people who sell it and people who buy it, they have a share of responsibility [in such deaths.]”
“By my faith, I vote against every alcohol bill,” he said.
As a parting gift before leaving the state Legislature, five outgoing lawmakers spent more than $13,000 of taxpayer money to go on a four-day junket to Chicago, according a TNReport review of state records. Taxpayers are covering the costs for everything from airfare and mileage to staying in $227-a-night hotels and taking $40 taxi cab rides during the trip. The registration fees were as high as $615 per person for the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in August. Some of the lawmakers, who had been defeated at the ballot box or announced their retirement, claimed five and six days’ per diem at $173 per day.
For lawmakers who knew at the time they would leave office after the November election, those bills amount to a taxpayer-funded “retirement party,” one critic said.
“People who serve in the Legislature for long periods of time tend to get a sense of entitlement about what the taxpayers owe them,” said Ben Cunningham, spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt, a taxpayer advocacy group.
What’s worse, he said, is that the speakers of both chambers signed off on the $13,388 worth of expense reports.
,,,The outgoing lawmakers are House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, who lost their primaries on Aug. 2, four days before the conference, and retiring lawmakers Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.
— Note: The article referenced above is, I think, the last story filed by Andrea Zelinski for TNReport. She’s moving to The City Paper, where she will continue to report on state government and political stuff, after a week or so vacation with her husband. The move has inspired some commentary — HERE, for Betsy Phillips, who is glad there’s a woman around among the dwindling Tennessee Capitol Hill Press Corps. I’m glad she’ll be around, too — not because she’s female, but because she’s a relatively fresh face compared to us old coots and is cool, competent and professional while actually paying a lot of attention to the ongoing process.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he expects the question of using taxpayer dollars to fund private school vouchers will be a major issue in the General Assembly come January, reports Andy Sher. But the horses already are out of the barn in several Southeast Tennessee legislative races where a full-fledged debate over vouchers is under way.
Some Republicans argue vouchers are necessary to advance school-choice initiatives already under way with public charter schools.
Democrats counter that any redirection of funding undermines support of public education, which they say is already too little.
Republican Rep. Richard Floyd, whose District 27 includes Red Bank and Signal Mountain, fully supports vouchers.
“Anything that we can do to give these kids a better shot at getting a better education we need to try,” Floyd said. “It may not work. If it doesn’t, we can come back and reinvent the wheel.”
Frank Eaton, Floyd’s Democratic opponent, has serious reservations about vouchers.
“I don’t think they’re in general a great idea,” Eaton said. “If our public schools were properly funded, we wouldn’t be faced with so many failing schools. We need to focus on making sure there’s a good public school available for every child.”
…House District 30, Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said the state “should explore some ways to include some vouchers and hopefully do so without making a large impact on the school systems.”
It would be “far better to have a pilot project than to go statewide with it right off the bat,” said Dean. State officials could use a pilot program to evaluate vouchers’ effectiveness.
His Democratic opponent, Sandy Smith, a retired Hamilton County teacher, said a voucher program is “taking more money away from public education.”
…Fault lines on vouchers often cut along partisan lines. But a number of Republicans in rural areas are lukewarm on the issue.
In the seven-county Senate District 16 contest, which includes Marion, Sequatchie and Coffee counties, Democrat Jim Lewis, of Kimball, is staunchly anti-voucher. Vouchers and any number of education initiatives passed or proposed by the Republican-led General Assembly amount to “outright theft from public schools,” he said.
“We haven’t funded public schools adequately in the first place, and if your design is to destroy public schools, then you find a way to suck more money out of them,” said Lewis, a former state senator.
Republican Janice Bowling, his opponent, is a former teacher who home-schooled one of her children for several years. Vouchers and other education initiatives often spring from “perfectly noble ideas and hopes,” she said, but end up as “kind of knee-jerk, ‘we’ll do this and this to fix it,'” responses, Bowling said.
“I haven’t had the opportunity [to look into vouchers] to see what the unintended consequences might be or what the benefits would be. I can see both sides.”
A Shelby County Election Commission personnel memo shows management missteps, including those marring August elections in Collierville and Millington, led to a suspension and probation for administrator of elections Richard Holden.
Further from the Commercial Appeal: But the commission’s decision to discipline Holden apparently was made at an executive session, closed to the public, after an Aug. 28 special meeting, and would appear to violate the state’s open meetings law.
Holden on Friday had a one-word response to the questions about whether he believes the commission’s actions were just: “No.”
Election commission members Thursday declined to provide details about Holden’s three-day suspension without pay, set for Oct. 1-3, and six-month probation through February, that were spelled out in an Aug. 29 memorandum. But the two-page memo in Holden’s Shelby County government personnel file made available Friday cites issues with the Aug. 2 elections in Millington and Collierville, as well as general management issues as reasons for the disciplinary action.
In addition, the commission warned Holden, who has an annual salary of $96,400, that the results of an investigation of the election problems by the state comptroller’s office could trigger further discipline, “up to and including termination of your employment,” the memo states.
The commission also provided Holden with an eight-point list of actions required during his probation, ranging from completing the upcoming Nov. 6 election “without a major incident” to attending a Dale Carnegie or similar leadership training course. Carnegie was the author of the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
The personnel memo, which a handwritten note signed by commission chairman Robert Meyers says was given to and discussed with Holden on Aug. 30, cites the following as causes for the suspension and probation.
The Shelby County Election Commission has voted unanimously to suspend administrator of elections Richard Holden for three days without pay in October, with probation of six months to follow, reports the Commercial Appeal. Election Commission member George Monger said the board voted Aug. 29 to suspend Holden because of personnel issues in the office and problems with the Aug. 2 election, in which thousands of voters received the wrong ballots.
During Holden’s probation, he will have to modify his management style, Monger said. Another provision of his probation is that the November election will have to run successfully.
“We had a host, a series of issues in the August election and because of that, the buck stops at the top,” Monger said. The disciplinary action was “certainly justified,” he said.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield is in the middle of a four-year term but already has at least two potential opponents to re-election in 2014, reports Georgiana Vines. The latest is Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, a cardiothoracic surgeon and retired Army colonel who has served in active and reserve units.
Briggs, a Republican, acknowledges an interest and says he will wait until after the Nov. 6 elections before making a decision.
…Brian Stevens, a full-time lecturer in statistics and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, already is campaigning for the post. He considered running for the 15th House District seat as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Joe Armstrong this year but did not. He said at the time his long-term goal was to run against Campfield. He plans to run as a Democrat, he said.
Shelby County’s chief election official says the County Commission’s failure to develop its redistricting plan, the loss of critical local precinct-change data by the state, the massive complexities of redistricting overall, and a new staff without redistricting experience contributed to unprecedented local problems in the Aug. 2 elections.
From the Commercial Appeal: The County Commission’s redistricting plan was legally due last Dec. 31, but was never finalized. The Shelby Election Commission decided on June 14 that it “must proceed at a rapid pace to implement the redistricting at all levels” based on no county commission plan, but the next day a court ruling approved a plan — and that ruling was promptly appealed. That was only a month before the start of early voting.
“I believed we could not act until the county commission enacted a redistricting plan,” Shelby Elections Administrator Richard Holden wrote. “Had they acted in compliance with state law, we would have implemented the plan we developed after the March election certification and the results would have been dramatically different.”
And despite preparations that started two years ago and the fact that “the potential for problems was well known throughout the state,” Shelby election officials did not become aware that voters were being issued incorrect ballots for their districts until early voting began last month, Holden said in a 4½-page letter e-mailed to State Election Coordinator Mark Goins Wednesday night.