- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A money trail leads from state Sen. Brian Kelsey’s state campaign account to an outside conservative group that ran radio ads supporting the Germantown Republican’s unsuccessful bid for Congress.

The Tennessean reports that the transfers illustrate the difficulty in policing a ban on state campaign funds from being used in federal races.

In Kelsey’s case, the newspaper found the lawmaker gave $106,000 from his state account to a political action committee run by the private Standard Club in Nashville on July 11.

Within days, the club gave $30,000 to the American Conservative Union and another $37,000 to a PAC called Citizens for Ethics in Government that is run by Republican donor Andy Miller Jr.

Miller’s group then gave all but $1,000 of the money from the club to the same national conservative group, which announced it would begin running ads supporting Kelsey.

Kelsey ultimately came in fourth in a crowded GOP primary won by freshman U.S. Rep. David Kustoff.

“There’s certainly enough smoke here to open an investigation to determine if there’s fire, because it sure smells like fire,” said Brendan Fischer of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center.

“If the intention was to transfer these state funds into federal elections, particularly into federal elections to benefit Kelsey, there could be an argument that Kelsey violated the soft money restrictions,” he said.

But another campaign finance expert, Washington attorney David Mitrani, cautioned that illegal conduct can be hard to prove.

“Ties don’t always mean there’s fire,” Mitrani said.

“What it would take here is evidence that the candidate either initiated or directed the transfer of money,” he said.

Kelsey declined to tell the newspaper why he gave $106,000 to the Standard Club PAC.

“My campaign and I had no discussions with Standard Club PAC or its representatives regarding how my donation could or should be used, and I don’t know who or what Citizens for Ethics in Government is,” he said.

The American Conservative Union, Miller and the owner of the Standard Club and its PAC did not respond to requests for comment.


Information from: The Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com

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