A hearing today could determine whether House Speaker Beth Harwell and her PAC will be found in violation of state campaign finance laws in the gubernatorial race. Meanwhile, the Tennessee attorney general has sidelined himself in the matter.
The allegations against Harwell will be heard at the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance meeting at 10 a.m. CST. The registry is part of the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.
Attorney General Herbert Slatery declined to answer questions about Harwell’s campaign submitted by Drew Rawlins, the executive director of the bureau, reported The Tennessean.
In refusing to answer the questions, Slatery’s office said the questions could become part of a potential lawsuit and the office might have to participate in the suit, The Tennessee Journal’s Humphrey on the Hill reported. Both The Tennessean and Humphrey on the Hill state that Slatery often provides opinions on topics that could become part of litigation.
Rawlins asked the attorney general’s office five questions, mostly related to recent complaints filed against Harwell, according to The Tennessean. She is the subject of three complaints.
One complaint challenges the validity of a $3.1 million loan Harwell made to her campaign, according to Humphrey on the Hill. The other complaints allege Harwell illegally coordinated with the PAC to sponsor a television commercial and direct mailing.
Sharon Ford, a well known conservative activist, filed three ethics complaints against Harwell back in March
“As expected, House Speaker Beth Harwell has had a third ethics complaint filed against her gubernatorial campaign, alleging illegal coordination with her PAC in the production and airing of her recent television ad,” the Nashville Post reported at the time:
As with the two last week, Nashville conservative activist Sharon Ford has filed the ethics complaint with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. She writes that Tennesseans for Good Government, formerly known as Harwell PAC, clearly made the ad, entitled “The Signs Are Everywhere,” “with direction cooperation, consultation and in concert with” Harwell.
“Since Beth Harwell was in the ad, she participated in the preparation of the campaign materials and their broadcast would be a coordinated expenditure by HARWELL’S PAC as defined by law,” Ford writes.
Austin McMullen, a lawyer representing Harwell and the PAC, has called for the complaints to be dismissed. He called the loan allegation a “fishing expedition,” according to The Tennessean and Humphrey on the Hill. McMullen said the other allegations should be dropped because the ad and mailer did not “expressly advocate for a candidate.”