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Tennessee Registry Of Election Finance Requests Attorney General Investigation Of Constitutional Republicans

Constitutional Republican Groups Deny They Are PACs (Political Action Committees) And That The Complaint Lacks Substance And Appears To Be Politically Motivated.

Image: The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance meeting on Jan. 23, 2024. Image Credit: John Partipilo

By Sam Stockard [Tennessee Lookout -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0] –

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance is requesting the Attorney General’s Office investigate two Constitutional Republican groups following a complainant claiming their activities require state spending disclosures.

Registry members voted Tuesday to send the matter to Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti after a Goodlettsville business owner made a sworn complaint against the Sumner County Constitutional Republicans and their partner organization, the Tennessee Constitutional Republicans. 

West Duenkel, owner of a motorsports photography business, filed the complaint with the Registry and the Sumner County District Attorney’s Office, claiming the two groups are unregistered political action committees yet qualify as a “multicandidate political action committee,” making expenditures to support or oppose two or more candidates for public office or two or more measures in an election involving referendums.

Duenkel contends he hasn’t been able to find a political action committee disclosure or any financial disclosures for the two groups.

Registry member Paige Burcham Dennis of South Fulton called for the investigation at a Tuesday meeting, and ultimately the board opted to ask the attorney general to report back in March.

Paige Burcham Dennis. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The group denies being a political action committee. In a Nov. 29 letter to the Registry’s attorney, Chairman Kurt Riley said the complaint “lacks substance” and appears to be politically motivated.

“I want to clearly state that our group operates as a private club without a formal legal structure. Our existence is based purely on our collective declaration as such,” Riley said in the letter.

Riley noted the group doesn’t have a bank account and that its financial activities are limited to “minor expenses” such as coffee and donuts paid for through petty cash. He says the club doesn’t provide financial support to candidates, candidates’ committees or other similar entities.

According to Riley, Activities are mainly “social and informational” through a social media site where the group shares preferences and recommendations.

Riley says he has personally paid for promotional materials such as T-shirts.

The group’s Bible-based platform calls for establishing a Christian foundation for governing as well as halting growth and development in Sumner County located just northeast of Nashville.

The group endorsed several candidates for Sumner County school board seats, General Sessions Judge Russ Edwards and Chris Spencer for state Senate District 18 over Republican state Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin. It sent out mailers showing donations to Haile’s campaign from drug companies and medical groups.

Duenkel, though, told the Tennessee Lookout in November he feels it is his duty to raise the question because groups that “operate as PACs” should be transparent in their fundraising.

Duenkel’s filing claims that the Sumner County Constitutional Republicans have been in existence for four years, and since their inception, has gotten involved in several local issues, sending out multiple requests for donations, spending “an incredible amount of time working to advance conservatism,” designing and buying stickers and other merchandise and hiring private investigators to vet candidates.

*Note from The Tennessee Conservative: Per The Tennessee Lookout’s Republishing Guidelines, this article has been edited for writing style and length.

About the Author: Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state’s best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association. Follow Stockard on Twitter @StockardSam

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