Registry Meeting to discuss Strong and Free TN: Wednesday, 11/12 at 1:00 PM

SEC_Strong and Free TN Sumner Front_072514

WARNING: There is a lot of information here so only continue reading if you have some time.. 

DISCLAIMER: Despite the continued obstacles and lack of concern or action by those in positions of authority, I will continue to push for “consequences” for the illegal and unethical actions of Strong and Free TN PAC…  So, consider yourselves warned, I will NOT give up and walk away…

With situations like this: the Strong and Free TN PAC against the State Executive Committee and the Advance PAC against TN Legislators – both PACs with STRONG TN GOP ties; Haslam’s use of taxpayer money to buy off contracts (where TCA 20-13-103, referenced as the guiding statute in the settlement, indicates

The written approval of the speaker of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives, the comptroller of the treasury and governor, shall be also required for the compromise and settlement of such civil litigation to which the state may be a party if the compromise and settlement will result in a significant increase in state expenditures, affect the bond rating of the state or result in a decision on a policy issue that may result in a significant increase in state expenditures. and which involves A MILLION DOLLARS in payouts – do either of these meet the ambiguous term of “significant?” ); and the lies presented to get Amendment #2 passed (all to consolidate power in to the Governor’s office); it is no wonder Tennessee (sadly) is #3 on the list of most corrupt states:  “A new study published by the American Society for Public Information names ten states as being the most corrupt in the nation, and one of them is the Volunteer State…”

I refuse to sit by idly and continue to let this corruption occur… 

***  NEXT Registry Meeting to discuss my pending complaint and one from Mark Winslow will be:  Wednesday, 12/10 at 1:00 PM at the Registry office. ***


AS EXPECTED, there were no outcomes from the meeting on Wednesday….  The NICEST thing that I can say about the meeting was that I was “disappointed”…. but not surprised…

ONCE AGAIN, any “resolution” to the Strong and Free TN (SAFT) PAC situation was delayed until the NEXT Registry meeting , Wednesday, December 10th at 1:00 PM…  (which incidentally will be AFTER the State Executive Committee Chair election…which I’m sure is JUST a coincidence….)

Show Cause Hearings:

In the Matter of Strong & Free Tennessee, Case No. 14-39  (in response to the “show cause” letters from August and September, 2014)

From the August meeting minutes:

Strong and Free Tennessee, for failure to show original sources of contributions on the 2014 pre-primary campaign financial disclosure report. Class two (2), maximum ten thousand ($10,000) civil penalty per violation. The organization has had no previous matters before the board. 

Director Rawlins provided the board with a copy of Strong and Free Tennessee PAC’s 2014 pre-primary campaign financial disclosure report. Director Rawlins informed the board that the organization failed to show original sources of contributions on the report. 

On motion by Fincher, seconded by Lawless, the board voted unanimously to assess the organization a show cause notice. 

There was no response from SAFT to the August “show cause letter” so it was postponed from the September meeting and another letter sent in September for October.  The show cause letter was finally acknowledged and their said they were now represented.  Their attorney, Gif Thornton, was not available for the October meeting so it was again postponed until November.

First, the SAFT attorney, Gif Thornton, tried to present these “errors” as just the mistakes of “volunteers”  which we all know is a lie.  Since when is Troy Brewer, who sells his services as a “compliance expert,” someone who is unfamiliar with the processes and the same goes for Blake Lay? Mr. Thornton also said they were “not rocket scientists” (wonder if they know that’s what he thinks of them)… but yet these individuals are intricately involved in the TN GOP and have been for MANY years… (they didn’t complete Registry paperwork, file with the Counties OR with the Secretary of State…all because they were “volunteers” and didn’t know any better – anyone want to buy a bridge?)

Then, he said that the Strong and Free TN PAC was a 501-C(4) tax exempt PAC for “education and policy advancement” purposes…  and the first mailer that they did was an “issue” advocacy (see attached).  Since we all know that the mailers had the names of candidates on them, that also was NOT true…both the first AND second mailers were endorsements of specific individuals in the SEC races so ANOTHER LIE.   (more details in the attached complaint letter I submitted along with copies of the first mailer in Sumner County)

Mr. Thornton did say that they were given their IRS Tax ID # on (Wednesday) 6-25-14 and that they opened their “CORPORATION” bank account on (Wednesday) 7-16-14 (THREE weeks later) but didn’t file as a CORPORATION at the same time.  They LATER opened the PAC bank account but I didn’t get the date on that. They filed for their Corporation Charter on (Saturday) 8-2-14 (over FIVE weeks from getting their tax ID) and we all know that that was just because the media called them out on it on Friday, 8-1-14 (thank you Tena Lee of The Tennessean!).

He said that “they” thought they “were in business” but said they were “not perfect” and any “mistakes” were “examples of volunteer results.”  He presented a list of the Election offices where they had “sent an email” to register their PAC but he did not indicate WHEN they sent the emails nor did he have no record from any of those offices that the emails were received or processed.  (We were not allowed to see that list but I will be sending an email request to obtain it.)

He also said that all of this occurred “months prior to when complaints were filed” – Add LIE #3…  The first SAFT mailers started being received on Friday, 7-25-14 and I made my first call to Drew Rawlins on Monday, 7-28-14 and filed a complaint with my local District Attorney later that week.  Last time I checked, a day did NOT equal a month…

He did admit to a “mistake in filing the charter” but that was an admission in passing…

Overall, there was minimal questioning and no direct, “get to the heart of the matter” investigation of this situation.   Mr. Thornton admitted to the PAC doing three mailers:  2 SEC mailers and one for Amendments #1 and #2.  The Chairwoman asked some questions about their filing because they were claiming to do “issue advocacy” but it appeared that they were not actually doing “educational” expenditures.  There was discussion on what percentage of their funds were “independent expenditures” in accordance with the IRS/Registry rules.

Mr. Thornton was asked for more information on their “educational” activities… Mr. Thornton said he didn’t have that information and “wasn’t prepared” for those questions today, thus, ANOTHER POSTPONEMENT – which we all knew was the objective from the beginning…  just get this all past the SEC Chair election…

In the Matter of Strong & Free Tennessee, Case No. C14-11

This was the complaint brought by Judy Cooley because SAFT had not filed to register as a PAC in Morgan and Roane Counties.  When Judy called Morgan County Elections on August 6th, she was told they still had not registered.  Yet, on Wednesday, the SAFT attorney, Gif Thornton, said that they registered on July 31.  Also, he said they did register in Roane County at the end of October (10-20-14) (THREE months AFTER the fact).

Again, the attorney presented a list of places where they sent “emails” to County Elections as his proof WITHOUT providing any written documentation to actually VERIFY that it was received and accepted… We also do not know if Morgan or Roane Counties were on that list.

The Registry had a minimal discussion and said because SAFT had filed (regardless of how many days, weeks or months later….), they decided to take no action

Several of us in attendance raised our hands to ask questions during the course of Mr. Thornton’s comments.  No questions from the observers were allowed…

That were several members of the Press there, including Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and David Boucher of The Tennessean (thank you!). 

Following the “hearing” on the SAFT issues, we left the meeting and actually were able to hold an impromptu press conference with them. We anticipate an article or two as result…

Here’s the first following the meeting

Questions raised about controversial PAC’s alleged ties to state GOP Chairman Devaney

 And an article from a few days earlier:

Tennessee GOP’s Civil War reignites in state House speaker’s, state party chairman’s contests

This is being presented as a fight within the Republican Party – and that may be true.  There is obviously a concerted effort by the Progressive GOP Establishment to reduce or contain the conservatives who believe in Founding Principles.

HOWEVER, that is NOT the point….the POINT IS FOLLOWING THE RULE OF LAW!!!!  

If you go back to the minutes of previous Registry meetings, you will find NUMEROUS examples of where candidates have had what I would deem “minor” infractions and sometimes, there was “no action” taken. Yet, other times, people or groups were FINED, sometimes hundreds, even thousands, of dollars…

I understand that we are all human and we all will make the occasional slip-up.  I am not advocating to throw the book at every violation.  I believe that Drew Rawlins will say that they are limited in what they can do.  And if that IS the case, then we need to get our Legislators to put some teeth in the Registry to stop this from EVER happening again.  Here we have an organization channeling THOUSANDS of dollars with MULTIPLE infractions and there is no clear-cut path for investigating what happened and asking the tough questions…

Our Country USED to be a nation of laws – and, while it did not always happen, the Original Intent was that laws should be considered and applied equally, regardless of wealth, social standing or political connections… I don’t know that I can say that anymore.

We are now going into FOUR MONTHS – SAFT violations were done MULTIPLE times with MULTIPLE mailers in MULTIPLE races in MULTIPLE counties with MULTIPLE infractions and yet NOTHING has been done….  I do realize that the “wheels of justice” sometimes move slowly, and I also realize that there may be a few people on the Registry Board that really ARE trying to get to the bottom of this.  

With that being said, after four months, here are just a FEW of the questions that remain and have yet to be answered:  (feel free to add to the list)

  • When did they file for their IRS 501-C(4) status?
  • When did they file for their IRS Tax ID #?
  • Did their IRS filings indicate that they were a Corporation or a PAC or both?
  • With WEEKS between both filing for those IRS items AND receiving them, how could they NOT have time to send out notifications of their PAC and get it registered?  Or even in the weeks FOLLOWING receipt of these IRS items?
  • How can these “volunteers” with YEARS of political experience “forget” to file $100 with their form submitted to the Registry on 7-15-14 and “found” on 7-29-14?
  • How many, if any, Counties DID they register in in a timely fashion (prior to the mailers going out)?
  • With the MULTIPLE infractions, how can there be “no action” for these clear violations?
  • Why did they not file their Corporation/PAC information when they set up their Corporation bank account?
  • How can they be doing business as a “corporation” without having filed with the Secretary of State?
  • Is there any penalty for spending money without submitting the required paperwork with the State?
  • What was the motivation for sending out the Amendment #1/#2 mailer?  Was that just a cover due to the fact that they knew they were needing something to distract from the two earlier candidate mailers?  What is the timeline between receiving their “show cause” letter and the “commission” of the #1/#2 mailers?
  • Why is there nothing being done about what seems to be a clear pattern of “mistakes” by experienced political professionals?
  • What are the reasons behind these “mistakes?”
  • Where did the $35,000 come from?
  • EXACTLY how many mailers were designed, created, addressed and mailed for $947.16 for each State Executive Committee “race?”
  • Since each “race” had the exact same amount of money spent and we know that some Districts are larger than others, with more registered Republicans than others (and more Counties), what exactly was the criteria used to determine which households/voters were sent mailers?
  • What do we know about the mailing company, DNI of Murfreesboro?  How long have they been in business?  What other jobs have they done for political purposes?  How were they selected by SAFT to do these mailers?
  • Why has SAFT never indicated any additional expenditures in their filings to date since they had two additional mailers sent out since their FIRST Finance filing?  (the last #1/#2 mailer may show up in the next filing but that does not account for the costs of the second round of mailers)
  • Were both the first AND second round of mailers included in the $947.16??
  • Would all of these items taken at face value lead a “reasonable and prudent” person to believe that all of this “errors” were done by “mistake” or that this was all being done as a “conduit” for hiding the source of the funds trying to take out TRUE conservative candidates and members of the State Executive Committee?

 It is my opinion that this is blatant attempt to hide the facts and the names involved with this group!   This is about power, control and manipulating the system to get it and keep it.

I for one, refuse to let these people manipulate the system, and use the members of the TN Republican Party and all the citizens of Tennessee as tools for their “personal political playground”…thus, I will continue the fight…

Call if you have any questions.  Thanks!

Ruth Fennell


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