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Campaign finance complaint referred to Tennessee AG

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(The Center Square) – Tennessee’s Registry of Election Finance determined further investigation is needed into campaign finance allegations against the Tennessee Senate campaign of Bobby Harshbarger.

The Bureau of Ethics’ Registry of Election Finance recently voted to send the matter to Tennessee Attorney General for further investigation, as the Tennessee Journal first reported.

The allegations come related to a text message campaign supporting Harshbarger against incumbent Sen. Jon Lundberg in in District 4 including Hawkins and Sullivan counties.

A complaint from Tennessee Sen. Ken Yager recently asked the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance to look into the East Tennessee Conservatives PAC and its connections to Harshbarger.

“While specific evidence is limited, the complaint seems to argue that the text messaging campaign at issue was paid for by the East Tennessee Conservatives PAC and that, because this PAC shares a treasurer with Congresswoman (Diana) Harshbarger’s campaign, this indicates that the PAC and the Harshbarger Congressional campaign are coordinating in violation of Tennessee’s statutes to support the State Senate campaign of Mr. Harshbarger,” an analysis of the allegations prepared by Registry General Counsel Lauren Topping and posted by WCYB said.

Last week, Gov. Bill Lee voiced his support for Lundberg, touting Lundberg’s “unwavering conservative values, including school choice for families.”

“A reivew (sic) of the East Tennessee Conservatives PAC’s filings (attached) shows that the PAC received $95,000 from the American Policy Coalition, Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization, on May 10, 2023 and has made various expenditures for “Consulting” services by AX Capital, LLC, which is a campaign consulting and accounting firm headed by Mr. Datwyler, since that time,” Topping’s memo says. “No independent expenditures or in-kind contributions have been reported through the 1st Quarter of 2024.”

Yager explained to The Center Square that PACs can skirt campaign contributions or run afoul of campaign finance law.

“Campaigns have contribution limits while PACs do not. There are also laws against coordination between campaigns and PACs,” Yager told The Center Square on May 1.

PAC Treasurer Thomas Datwyler is the treasurer for dozens of conservative campaigns and PACs across the country. He confirmed to The Center Square that “no money was shared between the campaigns or PAC’s in any way. That would be illegal.”

The East Tennessee Conservatives PAC is not affiliated with the grassroots East Tennessee Conservatives.

“I can promise you there is no coordination or connection between the Harshbarger’s and East Tennessee Conservatives PAC,” Datwyler told The Center Square.

Harshbarger’s campaign manager, Caleb Rose, called the complaint Lundberg’s “desperate attempt to save Lundberg’s failing campaign” in a statement to WCYB.

“He is calling in every favor from the establishment in Nashville because he doesn’t want voters to look at his record of betraying East Tennessee values,” Rose said.