Group calls for probe into Stand for Children PAC, 4 school boar - WSMV News 4

Group calls for probe into Stand for Children PAC, 4 school board campaigns

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Grassroots organization Tennessee Citizen Action Wednesday called for an investigation into whether campaign finance laws were broken in several races for Metro Nashville school board.

The group, which describes itself as a consumer rights organization, announced its plans to file a petition with District Attorney General Glenn Funk and/or the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

The petition asks the bodies to investigate “potential misconduct” between the Stand for Children political action committee and the campaigns for four school board candidates: Miranda Christy, Thom Druffel, Jackson Miller and Jane Grimes MeNeely.

The move comes one day before the election and on the heels of a recent Channel 4 I-Team investigation.

Last week, an I-Team report raised questions about how the political action committee for Stand for Children TN was interacting with school board candidate, Thom Druffel.

What the I-Team discovered prompted outrage from Gerard Stranch, the attorney representing Tennessee Citizen Action.

“This is absolutely inappropriate,” Stranch said.

Last Tuesday, the I-Team captured footage of the local director of Stand, Daniel O’Donnell, arriving for a meeting with Druffel.

That meeting took place during a blackout period, when PACs are not allowed to contribute to candidates.

O’Donnell told the I-Team it was his day off. Volunteer activity does not qualify as a contribution, according to campaign finance law.

Druffel claimed the meeting had nothing to do with a phone call or a Facebook post promoting his campaign that surfaced four hours later.

“There were several things that we were trying to do,” Druffel told the I-Team last week. “Most of it is scheduling and how do we do things, how do we coordinate our staff.”

The petition also highlights emails sent between O’Donnell and the director of the Martha O’Bryan Center, which is a nonprofit.

The e-mails discussed finding campaign workers for Christy, Druffel, Miller and MeNeely – all candidates Stand for Children has supported.

It is illegal for nonprofits to get involved in election races, according to federal tax laws.

Stand for Children is a national organization that supports charter schools.

Parent Chelle Baldwin said that concerns her.

“As a parent, I want somebody that’s going to represent all of our schools, that’s going to focus their concern on all of our students and funding all of our schools, not just the charter schools that are in the system,” said Baldwin, who lives in District 9.  She is named on the petition along with Tennessee Citizen Action.

Last year, Stranch and Tennessee Citizen Action led the fight against mayoral candidate David Fox and the Super PAC funded by his brother.

Stranch said to keep elections free and fair, candidates and the groups behind them need to be held accountable.

“It would be hypocritical to tell the students that you have to obey all laws and regulations while at the same time disobeying those to get elected to their position on the school board,” Stranch said.

The attorney said the petition will likely be filed Thursday morning.

Stand for Children, as well as three of the candidates named in the petition, quickly issued statements in response to the petition.

Daniel O’Donnell, Stand for Children TN:

The claims leveled against Stand for Children and its affiliated political committees by Tennessee Citizen Action and Chelle Baldwin one day before the election are entirely without merit and, as their press conference demonstrated, blatantly politically motivated. The petition they filed with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, in addition to containing a number of legal and factual errors, makes three basic claims all of which are untrue.

First, the petition claims that Stand PAC of Tennessee made unreported in-kind contributions to its endorsed candidates by hiring canvassers to work for or in coordination with them. This is simply untrue. At no time has Stand PAC of TN hired canvassers to work for or coordinate with any of the candidates.

Second, the petition alleges that because an employee of Stand met with one of the candidates during the 10-day black-out period, the PAC must have made a prohibited in-kind contribution. This too is untrue. The PAC has not made any contributions, monetary or in-kind, to any candidate during the black-out period. The person in question had taken the day off and was not under any direction from Stand to meet with any candidate. Tennessee law allows individuals to volunteer for candidates and their campaigns without limit on their own time. Period.

Third, the petition claims the PAC coordinated with a candidate by paying for calls supporting his election. That simply didn’t happen. The referenced calls were paid for by Stand for Children’s independent expenditure committee, which is operated separately. They were independent expenditures—not subject to contributions limits or the blackout period—and they were not coordinated with any candidate, either directly or indirectly.

Miranda Christy, District 5 candidate:

It looks like some of the incumbent school board members and their supporters are getting desperate, which is understandable with the conduct of some current school board members receiving national attention. This faux-legal document is a Hail Mary play for publicity before Election Day. If anyone should be filing a complaint, it should be me, and in fact, it is my understand that on Friday, a District 5 resident filed a petition with the Election Commission asking for an investigation into MNEA’s fraudulent flier that incorrectly names one of my opponents as incumbent. That flier went out to thousands of District 5 voters, and still hasn’t been corrected. We’ve also seen multiple promoted Facebook posts from MNEA during the candidate blackout period. Though I expect a full investigation of these matters, this campaign will continue to focus on a positive vision for our schools.

Thom Druffel, District 9 candidate:

In these closing days of the campaign, a small group of my opponent's supporters is desperately and irresponsibly trying to influence the election outcome by making false and frenzied claims of various sorts. The voters should not be fooled. I and my campaign have acted lawfully and ethically throughout the election process. I look forward to working with Dr. Joseph over the coming four years to help make Nashville's public schools everything they should be for the 85,000 children entrusted to their care.

Jackson Miller, District 7 candidate:

I am excited about the first day of school and all of the good things happening in Nashville's public schools. I look forward to helping Nashville move past this kind of divisiveness after winning the election tomorrow night.

District 3 candidate Jane Grimes MeNeely did not respond to a request from the I-Team by deadline.

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