The first quarter of 2022 finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by TN-5 candidate Robby Starbuck shows that he raised just over $104,000 in the first three months of the year, with 64.73% percent of that– $67,666– coming from out-of-state, and just 35.26 percent of it–$36,857–coming from Tennessee.
Starbuck raised $104,527.37 in total receipts for the Federal Election Commission reporting period covering January 1 through March 31, but had a very high burn rate, spending $71,003.56 of it.
Since he officially filed FEC paperwork in June of 2021, Starbuck has raised $359,593.90 and now has $172,264.97 cash on hand in the bank.
Despite a head start of nearly a year, Starbuck’s cash on hand total ranks fifth in a GOP primary field where the vast majority of other contenders entered the race within the two most recent months.
Starbuck’s high burn rate of nearly 68% of funds raised for the FEC first quarter can partially be attributed to a $10,000 retainer paid to San Francisco, California-based Dhillon Law Group, Inc.
The Dhillon Law Group, Inc. website says, “We strive to understand our clients’ goals, to work cooperatively to achieve those goals, and to do so in a way that makes sense economically for our clients, making us a trusted law firm in California. Contact us today and learn more about our practices and track record.”
It does not list any of the attorneys on the website as having been licensed to practice law in the state of Tennessee.
That is the law group that Starbuck identified to The Tennessee Star after he threatened legal action if his eligibility for the 2022 GOP TN-5 primary is challenged.
“I‘ve retained a world-class lawyer who has won multiple Supreme Court cases and I’ll deploy them accordingly if anyone’s desperate enough to contest my eligibility,” he said.
“If they do contest my eligibility, I hope they have deep pockets because they’ll end up paying my legal fees after I win. Tennessee was my primary residence in time to meet any new standard that would be set by the law being considered by our legislature if it passes.”
Starbuck further told The Star weeks later, “My lawyers are Harmeet Dhillon and Michael Columbo. I can confirm Michael sent the vouching letters written by three party chairs, my letter, other vouching letters and my legal team’s letter to Tennessee GOP Chair Scott Golden.”
Dhillon is licensed to practice law in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Second, Fourth, Ninth, and Eleventh circuits as well as U.S. District Courts in California, New York, Massachusetts, Delaware, Texas, Washington. Columbo is licensed to practice law in California, New York, and the District of Columbia.
The Star obtained A letter sent by Columbo to members of the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee. It says of the duly filled in accordance with Tennessee GOP bylaws challenges to Starbuck’s bona fide Republican status:
The secret complaint is just the latest scheme his rivals are attempting to avoid facing him on the campaign trail. Mr. Starbuck’s candidacy has already survived botched attempts to damage or nullify his candidacy. First through what we believe was a botched attempt to redistrict his house out of the 5th Congressional District and again with a botched attempt at passing a new law requiring 3 years of residency that certain supporters of the bill mistakenly thought would affect Mr. Starbuck’s candidacy.
The Party would be effectively disenfranchising those Republican voters by denying Mr. Starbuck the opportunity he has earned to compete to be their representative. If any group were to assert that Mr. Starbuck is not a Republican, voters would understandably question if they are in fact Republicans. This would do harm not only to Mr. Starbuck but the Republican Party at large and our candidates.
In the letter’s conclusion, Columbo says, “The secret complaint filed against him is just the latest ploy in reaction to the strength of Mr. Starbuck’s candidacy—a strength reflecting Tennessee’s 5th District Republicans’ popular approval of Mr. Starbuck’s impeccable Republican qualifications. Mr. Starbuck therefore urges the State Chair and State Executive Committee members who will be voting on the complaint to promptly review the enclosed evidence and dismiss the complaint.”
Members of the Tennessee Republican Party reacted poorly to the threatening language in the letter. Members of the SEC raised a concern publicly at the April 10 TNGOP meeting and asked Chairman Golden for clarification on whether the party would defend them if they were individually sued should they decide that the candidate that sent the letter stay off the ballot.
Starbuck took it upon himself to apologize for the letter, blaming his counsel for the threatening language.
“To Chuck I just want to apologize if it came off poorly to get the email from our legal team, it wasn’t meant as any sort of negative thing,” he said. “I just wanted to ensure that I was providing the most detailed response that I could and because I didn’t fully understand the process, I wanted to ensure that I didn’t overlook anything that needed to be sent or needed to be done. I leaned on my Counsel to learn about the process and to make sure that everything was sent over in the most detailed format possible.”
Starbuck continued with his apology.
“I’m sorry that approach gave the wrong impression to you and anyone else who didn’t feel that was the right way to send it,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t the intention behind having him send it over. In terms of the voting record I know that some of you have it but for those who don’t I’ve attached it here. We’ve been upfront that I’m missing a primary for the 3/4 primary option, that’s why I’m asking to be bonafide based on my other actions as a Republican and my contributions across the board to our party, our voters and our candidates.”
In his apology email, Starbuck claimed to be upfront about his failure to vote in Tennessee Republican primaries, but The Star’s reporting on the matter shows that is not the case. Starbuck first claimed to have voted in the Tennessee GOP primaries. Then he issued a back-dated press release in late-January repeating the claim. In a Facebook comment, he later claimed that he never said that he voted in the primaries. Finally, he admitted on Nashville’s Morning News with Dan Mandis that he failed to vote in any Republican primaries in Tennessee, claiming “I was confused about the question.”
Starbuck told Mandis that the reason he failed to vote in both the 2020 presidential preference and August 2020 statewide primaries was that “I wasn’t a full-time resident.”
“I had gotten my license when we had gotten a rental house here and we were sort of transitioning our kids here and transitioning – I was still closing down my business in California,” he said. “So because I was technically registered when I got my license, they count those as two missing primaries but the reality and the facts are that in California, where it’s a closed primary state, you know, I was always registered Republican.”
That statement runs counter to Starbuck’s later claims and claims his attorney made in the letter that he was a Tennessee full-time resident in December of 2018.
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