Rigged Registry Dismisses Dark Money Complaint
Today in Nashville, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance heard a campaign finance complaint brought by Tennessee Citizen Action involving four Metro Nashville School Board candidates and out-of-state dark money group Stand for Children. Unfortunately for the principle of fair, transparent elections, the Registry’s decision appeared rigged from the start and the ultimate outcome was a dismissal of the complaint in the face of strong evidence violations occurred.
“We are profoundly disappointed in the Registry’s unwillingness to hold candidates and dark money groups accountable,” said Andy Spears, Executive Director of Tennessee Citizen Action. “It seems clear the outcome was pre-determined and the Registry’s members simply ruled in favor of those with the right political connections.”
In the Stand for Children/School Board candidate case, there were emails from Stand’s political action committee (PAC) director recruiting paid “volunteers” for the PAC’s endorsed candidates. There was also a violation of campaign finance spending limits, as two Stand organizations spent funds on behalf of candidates. Registry Executive Director Drew Rawlins explained that when an independent expenditure committee and an affiliated PAC both spend funds in the same election, those funds are counted together for the purpose of PAC limits. Additionally, School Board candidate Thom Druffel met with Stand’s PAC director in the days leading up to the election and said on camera the meeting was to “coordinate” election activity. Coordination between candidates and PACs is illegal.
“Today’s Registry ruling means the rules don’t apply to the politically connected,” Spears said. “You have an explicit admission of a campaign finance violation and yet a failure of the Registry to act. What’s the point of having the Registry of Election Finance if they are not going to hold PACs and candidates accountable?”
Spears said Tennessee Citizen Action is calling on Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett to review Registry activity and recommend changes that will ensure fairness and transparency in election finance in Tennessee.
“Today’s ruling is part of a pattern — the Registry earlier this year dismissed a complaint against the Sumner Sentinel, an unregistered PAC that claimed to be a newsletter. The dismissal was based on a letter from one of the group’s funders, David Black — the husband of Congresswoman Diane Black.
“The message they are sending is clear: If you are politically connected, campaign finance rules don’t apply to you. Secretary of State Hargett should review the record and recommend changes in time for the 2017 legislative session. We can’t afford a system that is rigged for the usual suspects — Tennesseans deserve better.”