The next front in Tennessee's never-ending game of campaign finance whack-a-mole appears to be tracking revelations from education groups and the regulation of newly formed conservative subgroups that challenge incumbent Republicans.
Campaign finance records show specific donors to both the Tennessee Education Association Political Action Committee (PAC) and pro-voucher and charter organizations such as Tennessees For Students Success, TennesseeCan, and the Campaign for Great Public Schools. It is almost impossible for the general public to know. and Tennessee Children's Federation.
Newer groups like Sumner County Constitutional Republicans and Tennessee Stand are also resisting pressure to formally form PACs, even as they spend money on political causes, prompting campaign finance officials to do the same. is causing problems.
Bill Young, executive director of the Tennessee Registrar of Elections, said that, in part due to a law passed in 2022, the registry will at least disclose who is running the education-related PACs. He said unregistered political groups are a high priority for the department.
During the year, the state Legislature sought to curb 501c4 privateness and tightened rules regarding PAC public disclosure. A 501c4 is a nonprofit political advocacy organization that registers with the Internal Revenue Service for tax benefits. These differ from traditional nonprofits or his 501c3 in that donors cannot receive a tax deduction for their contributions to the group. Contributions to 501c4s do not have to be disclosed.
The state House and Senate leaders were instrumental in crafting updated campaign finance laws following the indictment of former House Speaker Glenn Casada and his aide Cade Cothren.
New legislation gives the public better visibility into spending by many educational organizations. However, current law still allows 501c4s tied to state organizations to hide the identity of donors, which is a particular problem among pro-charter and voucher groups.
For example, Team Kid PAC received 99.9% of its donations from Tennesseans for Student Success. Tennesseans for Student Success is an advocacy organization whose income depends on donations. Student Success previously told Lookout that donors have a “right to privacy.” But Team Kidd PAC has significant influence in state elections, spending more than $537,000 during the 2022 cycle, more than any other group. Other pro-voucher and charter organizations that operate PACs in the state, such as the Great Campaign for Public Schools, receive 100% of their funding from parent organizations TennesseeCan's PAC 77.3% and Tennessee Federation for Children 42.9% Did.
The current campaign finance system allows this unless the donor explicitly appropriates the money to the parent organization. However, there are some doubts as to whether this rule is being followed. According to documents first published by News Channel 5, the education groups formed an organization called the Tennessee Student Union in 2016 to raise money for political activities, among other things.
Who are the Education Association's donors?
To informed observers, the donors to the Tennessee Education Association PAC seem obvious. This is because the organization is funded by membership fees from participating teachers' salaries, some of which is used for political funding.
But under state law, contributions an individual makes to a PAC of less than $100 during a reporting period do not have to be disclosed on campaign finance reports.
Since 2009, the Education Association's PAC has recorded approximately $137,000 in contributions from specific sources, despite spending $2.2 million during that period. The remaining funds raised will be labeled as a unified donation.
But other union-affiliated PACs that raise money through similar dues processes publicly disclose contributions from members, no matter how small. For example, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has registered more than 1,000 individuals who have made contributions to the PAC ranging from $5 to $1,000 over the past 15 years. Some unions prefer to list their donors to publicize the number of members involved with the organization.
Conservative Union PAC
The Register of Deeds is currently conducting an audit of former Williamson County State Senate candidate Gary Humble, investigating whether Humble commingled campaign funds with his nonprofit media organization, Tennessee Stand. ing. Humble argues that because Tennessee Stand is not a political action committee or 501c4, it does not need to file a report with the Register of Deeds.
Humble challenged Senate Minority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), but lost by 1,200 votes. He drew the ire of campaign finance officials by hosting a rally for his campaign during a nonprofit event held by Tennessee Stand.
A similar problem is occurring with the Sumner County Constitutional Republican Party. The Sumner County Constitutional Republican Party is a loosely organized political group whose members hold and contest seats on the county commission. Sen. Ferrell Heil, R-Gallatin; The group has so far resisted forming a political action committee or 501c4.
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