Ethics officials launch probe into Stand for Children
Tennessee election finance officials have formally launched an investigation into allegations against Stand for Children and several Nashville school board candidates they supported during this year's general elections.
The Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance's registry board determined Wednesday there were enough questions to issue a show cause notice, which gives its employees the powers necessary to investigate a complaint filed by consumer rights group Tennessee Citizen Action and a Metro Nashville Public Schools parent.
The petition by the consumer rights group questions whether Stand's political action committee illegally coordinated with several pro-charter school candidates during the election.
"My gut feeling is there is enough smoke to open up and look at it," said Tom Lawless, chairman of the registry board. He added: "If they violated (the law), we need to be consistent. We don’t have to be punitive, we can be constructive."
The complaint was filed Aug. 4, a day before Nashville's school board elections, and cites a story by The Tennessean that details emails sent by the head of a prominent Nashville nonprofit that appear to show she coordinated with Stand for Children to find campaign workers for the four school board candidates.
It also cites a July 29 WSMV report that says Stand for Children Director Daniel O'Donnell met with candidate Thom Druffel during a 10-day mandatory blackout period before the election. Stand's attorney said O'Donnell took a day off from work that day and was not in violation of the law.
Stephen Zralek, an attorney with Nashville law firm Bone McAllester Norton PLLC who represents Stand for Children, said the organization takes election ethics issues seriously and consistently follows the law.
"The Registry’s order is standard procedure whenever a complaint is filed. We look forward to answering the Registry’s questions and providing an accurate account of the facts," he said in a Wednesday email.
Gerard Stranch, the attorney who filed the complaint, told the registry he thought it was clear that there was evidence Stand for Children exceeded campaign contribution limits by coordinating with candidates, and violated laws banning donations by a PAC within a "blackout period" in the days immediately leading up to the election.
Stranch said he's pleased in the registry board's action and looks forward to the findings.
“It is important that this investigation go forward, as Stand for Children is currently involved in numerous state House and other races in Tennessee. Stand for Children needs to understand that they have to abide by the laws of the state of Tennessee," he said. “We believe the investigation will show that there was improper coordination Ethics officials launch probe into Stand for Children: