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Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

“We are not an investigative agency” • Tennessee Lookout

“We are not an investigative agency” • Tennessee Lookout

Despite a major increase in staff funding for more than two years, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office notified the Registry of Election Finance that it is “not an investigative agency” and that the agency can find other options if it is not satisfied with the time required. to complete the probes.

Responding to a Register member’s public “outcry” about the time it took to review a complaint about constitutional Republicans in Sumner County this year, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Coulam said in a letter to the Register’s chief that the Attorney General’s office is a “law “. firm with just three investigators” specializing in Medicaid fraud and consumer protection and may not have the staff to do campaign finance investigations in less than three months.

“This office pursues excellence in all of its work, and with shared and limited resources — as is certainly the case with our investigators — we may sometimes have to sacrifice speed for a job well done,” Coulam said in a letter dated 28 June to Bill Young. , executive director of the Office of Campaign Finance and Ethics. The Lookout obtained the record through a public records request.

Constitutional Republicans face State Register complaints

Responding to a sworn complaint, the Register Board requested an investigation into whether the Sumner County Constitutional Republicans group acted as a political action committee by raising and spending money and supporting candidates without registering with the state.

The Attorney General’s Office completed a report on the case at the end of June, about five months after the Registry requested the investigation. A state investigator interviewed seven people, six of whom are connected to the Sumner County Constitutional Republicans and the Tennessee Constitutional Republicans, all of whom denied the groups were acting as a political action committee.

Coulam noted in his letter that the office’s goal is to complete investigations within 90 days and notify the agency if it needs more time.

He stressed, however, that if the Register is not “satisfied” with the timeline, referrals to his office are “optional, not mandatory,” according to state law.

Registry member Tom Lawless, a longtime Republican Senate appointee, said he viewed the letter to show that the Attorney General’s work for the registry is “voluntary” because the agency’s only other option is to refer investigations to district attorneys’ offices. Lawless, a longtime critic of the AG’s Office, questioned its speed in a recent Register meeting and added this caveat.

“Maybe, just maybe, some of his resources could be directed at issues in Tennessee,” Lawless said. “I don’t think the integrity of our voters and the integrity of our politicians is any less important than some of the other issues that they’re addressing and dealing with in other states.”

Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office frequently joins other conservative state attorneys general in trying to stop the policies of Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration. These involved new regulations on stoves and refrigerators, mail order for mifepristone, the abortion drug, and sex-affirmation care for minors, among many other efforts.

Maybe, just maybe, some of (Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s) resources could be directed to issues in Tennessee. I don’t think that the integrity of our voters and the integrity of our politicians is any less important than some of the other issues that they’re dealing with in other states.

– Tom Lawless, Electoral Finance Register

The Attorney General’s payroll reached $53 million this year for more than 363 positions with an average salary of $146,600, including 10 positions approved by the Legislature in fiscal year 2024 for a special unit that focuses on federal as well as consumer protection and corporate activities that “undermine the democratic process.”

Register member Hank Fincher, a Democratic appointee to the council, said Tuesday that he was aware of the letter and that the register would discuss its response at a meeting in late July, most likely in executive session, when the council can discuss legal matters. such as litigation with a lawyer.

“I’m a little confused as to why we’re being talked into doing something that the statute specifically directs us to do,” Fincher said.

The Attorney General’s Office did not respond to requests for comment on the letter to the registry on Tuesday.

The Register also recently requested an AG’s Office investigation into a sworn complaint by Sen. Ken Yager to Republican challenger Bobby Harshbarger’s campaign in eastern Tennessee, where he is running against incumbent Sen. Jon Lundberg. Yager claims Harshbarger’s campaign agrees with a political action committee and the campaign of his mother, U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger, mainly because they share the same treasurer, Thomas Datwyler.

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