Stand for Children, 4 ex-candidates, cleared of wrongdoing by ca - WSMV News 4

Stand for Children, 4 ex-candidates, cleared of wrongdoing by campaign finance officials

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Four former Metro school board candidates and the special-interest group Stand for Children were cleared of wrongdoing by the Registry of Election Finance on Wednesday morning.

Commissioners voted unanimously to dismiss a complaint that alleged Stand for Children and the former contenders for Metro Nashville School Board violated campaign finance law by exceeding contribution limits and illegally coordinating during a blackout period.

Jane Meneely, Miranda Christy, Thom Druffel and Jackson Miller all lost their campaigns. The attorney representing Stand for Children said this effort was a smear campaign orchestrated by sore winners.

“It is important to note that the original complaint filed against Stand and candidates for the Metro Nashville School Board was based on hearsay—not fact,” said attorney Stephen Zraleck. “And the facts, as presented in sworn affidavits, demonstrate that Stand followed both the letter and the spirit of state campaign finance law.”

But those who filed the complaint hailed the decision as a dark day for fair and transparent elections.

“It’s the old, ‘You’re going to believe me or your lying ears,’” said Gerard Stranch, who represented the consumer rights group Tennessee Citizen Action and a Nashville parent.  “They decided their ears are lying to them, and it’s very disappointing.”

In light of the Registry’s decision, Tennessee Citizen Action called on the Secretary of State’s Office to get involved.

“What's the point of having the Registry of Election Finance if they are not going to hold political action committees and candidates accountable?" wrote director Andy Spears in a statement.

While it operates a Nashville office, Stand for Children is a special-interest group based in Oregon, which has been criticized for its support of charter schools.

Charter schools have played a divisive role in Nashville’s education scene.

In August, Stand for Children poured thousands of dollars into the Metro Nashville School Board race.

Over the past several weeks, commissioners have reviewed emails and statements regarding this issue. On Wednesday, they stated there was not enough evidence anyone illegally coordinated.

But one ex-candidate who was cleared said the ordeal may discourage others from seeking public office.

“I’m the person you want to run for office,” said Miranda Christy. “So why would I step out and do it again if I was a rational person?”

Stranch argued he provided the Registry with plenty of evidence, including emails between Stand for Children’s local political director Daniel O’Donnell, and the nonprofit, the Martha O’Bryan Center.

In the emails, O’Donnell was discussing recruiting canvassers for the four campaigns.

But commissioners said they felt that action didn’t constitute illegal coordination, meaning the candidates did not exceed campaign contribution limits.

Stranch also raised questions about whether O’Donnell and candidate Thom Druffel coordinated during the blackout period, ten days before the election.

Druffel acknowledged to the I-Team in July he had met with O’Donnell.

“There were several things we were trying to do,” Druffel said. “Most of it is scheduling and how we do things, how do we coordinate our staff.”

But commissioners pointed out it’s unclear whose staff Druffel was referring to.

“People have to be able to speak,” said Tom Lawless, the chairman of the Registry of Election Finance. “And you can’t nitpick after the fact.”

As for O’Donnell, he has stated he was on vacation that day and volunteered to meet Druffel.

Under state law, volunteering is not an activity that is considered to be an in-kind contribution, which political action committees are banned from giving during the blackout period.

A spokeswoman released a written statement on behalf of Daniel O’Donnell:

We are pleased with today’s final decision to clear Stand for Children and its registered committees of any and all wrongdoing. We have said from the beginning that we acted completely within the boundaries of the state’s campaign laws, and today we are thankful that the Registry agreed. At Stand, we take pride in our work advocating on behalf of Nashville’s children. We have already resumed working with parents and community partners on our vital mission of ensuring every child in Nashville receives a great public education.

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