Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rocks and glass houses, peas in a pod, birds of a feather, and politics

The 2010 elections will go down in history as one of the most important and intense in our nation's history. In Tennessee, we have seen some of the most hotly contested primaries ever. One in particular kept the media and politicos buzzing all spring and through the summer until the primaries on August 5th. It was the State Senate Republican Primary for Tennessee's 17th District. It pitted the incumbent, Sen. Mae Beavers, against State Representative Susan Lynn, and the newcomer Gordon Borck.

The incumbent, Beavers, won the primary due to a lot of help from her friends. One of them was radio talk show host Steve Gill. Beavers spent over $12,000 on advertising on Gill's show prior to the primary, according to her campaign finance reports. Gill got involved in the race early making inquiries of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance (TREF) as to whether all of Rep. Lynn papers were in order. He also inquired as to if she could be removed from the ballot if they were not. Then, according to documents on The TREF website, a complaint was filed against Rep. Lynn by Craig West alleging that Lynn had failed to file the proper form to designate a Treasurer for her campaign. Rep. Lynn cooperated with the investigation providing a written statement to the Board which said that she did not believe she had "... broken any law" as she had always been her own Treasurer. The TREF agreed with her and dismissed the complaint which according to an article on the, Ethics Complaint Against Lynn Dismissed, appeared to be nothing more than a "political weapon" used against Lynn by Gill and others in an effort to help Beavers win the primary. Interestingly, not only does Beavers advertise on Gill's show, but Beavers Finance Chair, A.J. McCall of D.T. McCall's Furniture, has, too. These connections make one wonder if the complainant, West, might also have a connection to the Gill-Beavers-McCall team, but that's probably something better left to a professional investigative reporter to look into - not a little ol' blogger. Plus, I wouldn't want to be labeled a "Conspiracy Theorist."

Some of Steve Gill's rhetoric during the whole escapade was pretty intense. He referred to Rep. Lynn as a criminal claiming that she had raised campaign funds illegally and misstated her voting record. He claimed she had voted in favor of drivers licenses for illegal aliens. The problem for Gill is that TREF cleared Lynn of any wrongdoing (as mentioned previously), and she was NOT even a member of the Tennessee Legislature when the bill granting illegal aliens drivers licenses was passed. You would think someone of Gill's notoriety, "stature," and resources would check his facts better. These "errors" made him look unprofessional and less credible as a talk show host. Did he use information received from a source without verifying it first ?? Who could that source have been ??

After listening to Gill's ranting and raving, I remembered that he had ran for elected office twice. In 1994, he lost to the incumbent Bart Gordon in a close race for the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1996, he ran against Gordon again, but this time Gordon whipped him easily him making a two-time loser out of him. Gill has not run since. I decided to do some digging paying close attention to Gill's campaign finance disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). My experience as a former auditor taught me that generally when someone gets so intense and emotional about an issue, such as election finances, it's because they have a past with that issue. It's the ol', "Don't be throwing rocks if you live in a glass house."

While reviewing the FEC filings of the Gill for Congress Committee (hereafter the Gill Committee), I found that the FEC had questioned, on several occasions, contributions received from donors due to them being over the maximum legal limits. Plus, on a couple of occasions, the Gill Committee had to be sent "Second Requests" by the FEC for failure to reply to their first request. I noted the following items :
  • Reporting period 4/1/1996 - 6/30/1996 - the Gill Committee received a request for additional information from the FEC on 9/24/1996 due to contributions received in excess of the  maximum legal limits. Apparently, the Gill Committee did not respond to the request so the FEC sent a second request threatening legal action on 10/17/1996. The Gill Committee finally responded to the FEC on 11/20/1996 by filing an amended report moving some of the excess contributions from the primary to the general election. The question is why did it take two requests and a threat of legal action ??
  • Reporting period 7/1/1996 - 9/30/1996 - the Gill Committee received a request for additional information from the FEC on 10/15/1996 because it appeared contributions exceeding the maximum legal limits had been accepted by the campaign again. Furthermore, the FEC, once again, had to send two requests. The first one on 7/1/1997 and another on 7/24/1997 which threatened legal action if the campaign did not comply. Finally, on 8/4/1997, the FEC received information amending the disclosure reports in question correcting what the Gill Campaign described as "typographical errors." Once again, why did they not cooperate with the first request ??
  • Reporting period 10/1/1996 - 10/16/1996 - the Gill Committee was sent a request for additional information by the FEC. This one dated 12/10/1996 noted the same "error" - contributions exceeding maximum legal limits. On this occasion, the Gill Campaign responded to the FEC inquiry much quicker only receiving one notice before filing additional information to amend the report.
  • Reporting period 10/17/1996 - 11/25/1996 - the Gill Committee was sent a request for additional information by the FEC. Guess what the problem was this time on the notice sent 12/12/1997 ?? Yep, you guessed it - contributions in excess of the maximum legal limits. You'd think they would have figured it out by then. Fortunately, it only took one notice from the FEC to get it right this time.
Steve Gill's Congressional Campaign Committee filed "errant" financial disclosure reports not once ... not twice ... not three times ... but on four different occasions during their 1996 campaign. On two of those occasions the FEC had to send multiple requests and threaten legal action in order to gain the Gill Campaign's compliance. Each time the infraction was the same - accepting contributions in excess of the maximum limits set by law. Were they just error prone ?? Or, were these "errors" intentional ?? Only the campaign knows for sure.

Steve Gill ruthlessly attacked Rep. Susan Lynn incessantly for allegedly breaking Tennessee Election Finance Law. We'll probably never know whether Gill's mouth had any effect on the outcome, and if so, how much. Fortunately, the TREF had more sense than Gill and cleared Rep. Lynn of any wrongdoing as they should have. Two things we know for sure, though - 1) Rep. Lynn cooperated with the TREF and was cleared, and 2) Gill's Campaign appears to have violated Federal Election Finance Law on multiple occasions and was, at best, slow in cooperating with the FEC. So, based upon these facts, should Gill really be going around calling people "criminals ??"

As I worked on this post, old sayings like "Birds of a feather flock together" and "two peas in a pod" came to mind." I've shown you the Gill / Beavers / McCall connection and Gill's record on campaign finance disclosures. It's the kind of stuff that makes inquisitive minds wonder what else might be out there just waiting to be found. There might not be anything to find, but then again there could be a career-making story out there for a motivated investigative journalist. Oh well, we may never know. But then again ......
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