For the second time, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is asking a Nashville judge to seal court records that would reveal his campaign’s inner workings, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. The Ooltewah Republican’s goal is to prevent political opponents from seeing or distributing 1,800 pages of polling research, internal emails and strategy memos. Someone suing Fleischmann requested the documents as part of the civil discovery process.
In a filing, Fleischmann’s attorney said the congressman would supply the papers as long as they’re hidden from public view.
“The Court should order that any of these documents filed with the Court should be placed under seal, only to be opened in accordance with a subsequent court order,” the motion for a protective order states.
Fleischmann, an attorney, is joined in the motion by his co-defendant, Chip Saltsman, the congressman’s longtime political adviser and onetime Washington-based chief of staff.
Both men are fighting a defamation lawsuit stemming from claims in a three-year-old Fleischmann TV ad. Documents filed in Davidson County Circuit Court this week show the case is set for trial Feb. 24.
Political operative Mark Winslow filed the lawsuit. During the 2010 Republican primary, he worked for Fleischmann’s toughest opponent, former Tennessee GOP Chairwoman Robin Smith.
In an interview Friday, Winslow attorney Gary Blackburn said Fleischmann’s polling data motivated Saltsman to create “negative ads” that twisted the truth and ruined Winslow’s professional reputation.
“If a congressman’s tracking the success of lies,” Blackburn said, “shouldn’t the public be allowed to know that?”
Through a spokesman, Fleischmann declined to comment. He has described the lawsuit as “frivolous” and politically motivated. Saltsman, a well-known Republican strategist who managed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Tennessee Republican Party on Monday denied leaking in-house personnel files that benefited U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s first campaign, reports the Chattanooga TFP. State party attorney Bill Outhier couldn’t pinpoint the source beyond the denial.
“Your speculation is as good as mine,” he said Tuesday.
Originally stored at state GOP headquarters in Nashville, the documents inspired a 2010 Fleischmann campaign ad that attacked Republican rival Robin Smith. A TV voiceover charged that Smith paid “lavish bonuses” to staffers while she was state party chairwoman and financial times were tough.
Fleischmann campaign consultant Chip Saltsman produced the ad using former Smith aide Mark Winslow’s Tennessee Republican Party personnel file, which included salary information and a mutual confidentiality clause. Saltsman later said he obtained the file when an unknown source left it on his garage steps.
Winslow sued Fleischmann and Saltsman for defamation and the Tennessee Republican Party for breach of contract.
“The state party had the documents,” Winslow attorney Gary Blackburn said. “They escaped to Mr. Saltsman. We still don’t know how.”
The ad aired late in the 2010 3rd District Republican primary race. Fleischmann beat Smith by 1,415 votes and steamrolled the Democratic nominee. He won re-election in November.
An Ooltewah attorney, Fleischmann has called Winslow’s case “frivolous,” but he declined to comment Tuesday. The congressman was unable to corroborate the “lavish bonuses” claim in a deposition last year.
In a separate deposition, state party chairman Chris Devaney testified the personnel documents didn’t come from him or the party.
“You know, just like every document at the party — the place is under lock and key,” Devaney said. “And you know, I believe that the place is secure.”
Since July 2011, Chuck Fleischmann’s campaign has earmarked $51,523 in donor funds to pay Chip Saltsman’s legal fees in a lawsuit 600 miles away from Washington, D.C., according to Chris Carrolll. Campaign finance records show the latest payment, $15,000, came on Nov. 14. Fleischmann’s office announced Saltsman’s resignation as chief of staff a month later.
After spending $1.3 million on the 2012 election cycle, the Fleischmann campaign reported $50,990 on hand and $226,538 in debts, according to the latest filings.
Last week, Fleischmann and his Nashville-based attorney declined to respond to inquiries about whether the Republican congressman’s campaign will continue paying Saltsman’s bills this year. Saltsman and his attorney did not return a detailed phone message seeking comment Thursday.
The legal fees stem from a 2-year-old Davidson County Circuit Court lawsuit filed by a rival political operative. Former Robin Smith aide Mark Winslow is suing Fleischmann and Saltsman over advertising claims the duo made in the 2010 election. Winslow seeks $750,000 in damages.
Fleischmann edged Smith and became the Republican nominee after a bitter 3rd District primary season. The lawsuit alleges defamation, inducement to breach a contract and invasion of privacy.
After Fleischmann’s campaign consulted with the Federal Election Commission in 2011, the agency determined that using donations to defend Saltsman was allowable because the lawsuit involves “allegations directly relating to campaign activities engaged in by Mr. Saltsman.”
…Meanwhile, attorneys continue to litigate the lawsuit, which is entering its third year after being filed in January 2011. Gary Blackburn, Winslow’s attorney, filed a motion to add the Tennessee Republican Party as a defendant last week.
A trial could be months away, Blackburn said.
The Tennessee Republican party has been added as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by a former state GOP chief of staff of the Tennessee Republican Party, reports Chas Sisk. The state GOP is accused of leaking confidential information about his pay in an attempt to undermine former chairwoman Robin Smith’s 2010 run for Congress. Attorneys for Mark Winslow are adding the state party to a lawsuit that alleges U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, and adviser Chip Saltsman defamed Winslow in a television ad that aired shortly before the 2010 Republican primary. The spot said that Smith had paid out “lavish bonuses” to staff, including Winslow, while head of the state party.
Fleischmann beat Smith by 1,415 votes to earn an upset win for the Republican nomination. He went on to win the general election that year, and he was elected to a second term in November.
Michael Sullivan, the Tennessee Republican Party’s deputy executive director, declined to comment on the suit.
The filing made Thursday updates a complaint that Winslow filed nearly two years ago against Saltsman, a message consultant to Fleischmann’s 2010 congressional campaign who went on to work for him in Washington as his chief of staff.
The suit describes two payments that the ad may have referred to as bonuses: Winslow’s portion of a $20,000 bonus that Smith shared with staffers as a reward for Republicans’ gains in the 2008 election and a $12,504 severance payment made to Winslow shortly after Smith stepped down in 2009 to run for Congress.
Winslow says he and Chris Devaney, the current chairman of the party, agreed to the severance payment and that it was supposed to be kept confidential. The complaint contends party officials should have kept the agreement locked up, but instead it made its way into the hands of Saltsman and several reporters.
Upset over reports of Democrats voting in GOP primaries earlier this month, some Republicans are reviving an previously-shelved effort to require party registration and closed primaries in future Tennessee elections.
State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Mark Winslow, a member of the Republican State Executive Committee, say they met Tuesday with House Speaker Beth Harwell to advocate the idea. Harwell, a former state Republican chairman who has previously opposed closed primaries, said she is now reconsidering the proposal.
But state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney voiced opposition to closed primaries Wednesday, saying the open system has led to GOP gains throughout the state and closure could slow or stop the trend of Democrats and independents moving into the Republican fold.
Shipley, who defeated challenger Ben Mallicote by 11 votes according to unofficial Aug. 2 primary returns, said a review of records of those casting ballots in the race shows that 1,262 voters had previously voted in one or more Democratic primaries. Shipley said he believes most were Democrats who voted for Mallicote.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann testified in a deposition that he never saw some of his own campaign ads before they hit the airwaves, reports Chris Carroll. That despite a federally mandated voiceover joined with each ad: “I’m Chuck Fleischmann, and I approve this message.” In a separate deposition, Chip Saltsman, the freshman congressman’s former campaign consultant and current chief of staff, testified that he approved a Fleischmann ad that included a “created” computer image featuring Tennessee’s state seal superimposed over a nongovernment document.
The national campaign manager for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign, Saltsman also said he never confirmed the validity of confidential documents used in a powerful attack ad against Fleischmann’s chief opponent in 2010’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.
The pair gave depositions in a lawsuit filed in January 2011 by Mark Winslow, the former chief of staff for the Tennessee Republican Party. He sued Fleischmann and Saltsman for defamation, inducement to breach a contract and invasion of privacy and is seeking $750,000 in damages.
Internal Fleischmann campaign details were obtained from depositions the congressman tried to keep secret. In a protective order filed March 29 on behalf of Fleischmann, attorney Brent S. Usery indicated that “2012 is an election year,” adding that the congressman’s testimony would include confidential “campaign strategy, oppositional research and campaign spending decisions.”
A judge denied Fleischmann’s request in May, three months before the congressman’s Aug. 2 Republican primary election against three challengers, including Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp.
Fleischmann campaign spokesman Jordan Powell issued a written statement late Friday.
“This confirms what we’ve said from the beginning — it’s a politically motivated lawsuit designed to attack Congressman Fleischmann at a politically expedient time,” the statement said. “And with it being three weeks before early voting, this proves our point.”
The Chattanooga Times Free Press obtained written transcripts of depositions for Fleischmann and Saltsman, both of which were filed Friday afternoon in Davidson County Circuit Court in Nashville.
While Fleischmann said “I don’t know,” “I wouldn’t know” and “I don’t recall” a few dozen times over the course of a four-hour deposition, the sworn testimony offers a rare glimpse inside his campaign playbook.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is now a defendant in a lawsuit alleging that Chip Saltsman, his chief of staff, defamed and slandered an aide for the congressman’s top rival during last year’s Republican primary, according to the Chattanooga TFP.. “As Chuck Fleisch-mann’s lackey, Mr. Saltsman acted only upon the instruction and approval of Chuck Fleischmann and on his behalf,” said a court filing for Mark Winslow, the former aide to Robin Smith.
Financial disclosures show Fleischmann’s campaign has already paid $7,565.38 to the Nashville law firm defending Saltsman, raising the question of whether a sitting congressman can use campaign donations for his own legal defense.
Jordan Powell, a spokesman for Fleischmann, said the congressman “was advised by counsel not to comment on any pending litigation.” Earlier this year,
Fleischmann’s office consulted with the federal agency that oversees election law. In a May 26 advisory opinion, the Federal Election Commission determined the Saltsman legal expenditures were campaign-related and not for “personal use.” The opinion did not address whether a congressman is allowed to use such funds, but it hinted at the issue.
…Fleischmann became a defendant in Winslow’s lawsuit about the same time Smith, the former chairwoman of the state Republican Party, began talking publicly about challenging the congressman again. In an interview, Smith said she’ll make a decision about whether she’ll run in 2012 within the next few weeks. She said she wouldn’t rule out hiring Winslow for a rematch.