Facing three ethics violations before the Registry of Election Finance House Speaker Beth Harwell walked out with a 3-0 decision to not proceed against her in any way. Perhaps the most significant of the three violations was the complaint that she used her PAC to promote her record as House Speaker…using the exact same ad team that is promoting her campaign for Governor. “Clearly, the Tennessee Registry doesn’t believe that such overlap of creative, production and placement of ads constitutes ‘coordination.’ That certainly opens the door for every other PAC and campaign to operate under the same ‘rules’ that they now have established with this ruling,” said Sharon Ford, President of the Tennessee Republican Assembly who filed the ethics complaints. One member of the Registry raised a specific concern about the precedent that the decision would establish but was ignored.
Registry Chairman Tom Lawless singled out the State Attorney General for criticism for failing to give the Registry direction on how to proceed from a legal standpoint. “This body requested an attorney general’s opinion to assist us in evaluating the complaints,” Lawless said. “The opinion was respectfully declined by the AG’s office because it appears the questions posed in the opinion could potentially involve litigation in which the attorney general’s office would be called upon to participate.”
Lawless said the panel should be permitted to get its own lawyer if the Attorney General refuses, but was told by Slatery’s office that such a request would require authorization from the AG and the Governor.
“We’re on the horns of a dilemma here,” Lawless said. “We have an attorney general who is refusing to assist us, or assist his client, which this body is. If we want to go get our own [legal counsel], we can’t do that because they’ve got to give us permission.”
Ford noted that the same attorney reportedly represented both the Harwell Campaign and the PAC. “The proceeding itself demonstrates coordination, but the Registry never even questioned it.”