Stand for Children, school board candidates face potential fines - WSMV News 4

Stand for Children, school board candidates face potential fines

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(WSMV file photo) (WSMV file photo)

Four candidates who ran for Metro School Board and the pro-charter group that supported them could face more than half a million dollars in fines, according to a letter from the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

Executive Director Drew Rawlins released a letter on Wednesday stating that the Registry believes that there may be grounds to assess civil penalties against some or all of the parties involved for violations of the Campaign Financial Disclosure Law.

The total penalties could amount up to $685,164.38.

A petition filed by parent Michelle Baldwin raised questions about the political action committee, Stand for Children, and the four candidates it was backing for Metro School Board: Miranda Christy, Thom Druffel, Jackson Miller and Jane Meneely.

The allegations focused on coordination between these candidates and Stand for Children, which contributed thousands of dollars to their campaigns.

The Channel 4 I-Team discovered that Druffel and Daniel O’Donnell, who works for Stand for Children, met during a blackout period. During this time, political action committees cannot make contributions to campaigns.

At the time, O’Donnell told the I-Team it was his day off.

Four hours later, a phone call started circulating in Druffel’s district. It was paid for by Stand for Children’s independent expenditure committee, which is allowed to contribute to a campaign regardless of the blackout period.

But an IEC and a PAC are not supposed to coordinate strategy.

Stand for Children also came under fire after the director of a nonprofit encouraged her employees to canvas for the four same candidates.

Emails surfaced between the director of the Martha O’Bryan Center and O’Donnell, who had been asking for help for the candidates’ campaigns.

Federal law prohibits the nonprofit from getting involved in any campaign or election.

“In these exchanges O’Donnell was acting as an agent for Stand Independent as that is the only entity having money earmarked for paid canvassers in the Nashville school board elections,” Rawlins’ letter stated.

Rawlins wrote that the Stand PAC and IEC are affiliated political campaign committees, so all their contributions should be viewed as contributions made by a single committee.

The letter then explained that the four candidates accepted contributions in excess of the statutory maximum.

Each candidate could face approximately $70,000 in fines, which is based on the amount of money they received from Stand’s committees that exceeds the maximum limit for campaign contributions.

Stand for Children could also be fined a similar amount for each time it made contributions in excess of the limit.

Additionally, the Registry stated the campaigns did not correctly note contributions from Stand IEC on two disclosures.

Tennessee Citizen Action, along with Baldwin, called for the Registry to investigate Stand for Children in August.

Gerard Stranch, who represents Tennessee Citizen Action, issued this statement:

The show cause order does an excellent job of laying out the multiple violations of law by Stand for Children and their hand-picked school board candidates. As you can see by the conduct and the magnitude of their spending, Stand for Children thought our school board was for sale. The voters saw through the illegal conduct and voted against Stand for Children. Now it’s time for the registry to mete out justice and show Stand for Children and other similar PACs that our rules and regulations are important and will be vigorously enforced.

Stephen Zraleck is representing Stand for Children. He issued the following statement:

Stand follows the law and takes its ethical obligations seriously. We will fully cooperate with the Registry and look forward to a favorable outcome after we present all of the facts. 

A hearing is set for Oct. 12, when the parties can explain themselves to the Registry.

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