Advance TN PAC 2.0

*** SPECIAL REPORT***

Haslam and allies gunning for conservative GOP legislators — Again.

  • Jobs4TN PAC linked to the infamous AdvanceTN PAC.

  • 2014 attacks were far more extensive than previously known.

  • Major expenditures went largely unnoticed.

  • Bill Haslam and family provided 56% of the funds.

Recently, GOP fundraiser and Haslam operative, Kim Kaegi sent the following invite out to a few thousand close friends:

INVITE

We were struck by the size of the “ask.” $10,000 for sponsorships and a minimum of $1,000 per person for a luncheon. For what? There was no mention of where they spent the past contributions or who were going to be the recipients of the PAC’s new funds. Keep in mind, this PAC was created and is run by Bill Haslam.

RTP has done an analysis of Jobs4TN PAC that has led us to believe it is nothing more than an adjunct to and the latest incarnation of the notorious AdvanceTN PAC that Haslam and Cate tried to secretly fund through their allies to attack conservative Republicans in the 2014 GOP primaries. The attempt by a Republican governor to defeat members of his own party was unprecedented in Tennessee history.

After having been caught red-handed trying to defeat incumbent conservative legislators (which was a failure: conservatives actually picked up a net gain of one legislator after it was all over), the governor and his henchman, Mark “Haters Gonna Hate” Cate, now appear to be stockpiling money to once again take out and/or distract conservatives who dare oppose Haslam’s agenda (Common Core, Gas Tax, Insure TN, etc.) or the business interests of Haslam’s cronies.

Cate formed a new company and is being greased with a generous contract working for the new state history museum (and that’s just the contract that is public – no telling what other “non-public” contracts Haslam is funneling to his paid operative).

An examination of the Jobs4TN PAC report through the middle of last year is revealing and raises a number of disturbing questions about the present, current and future activity of Haslam’s vendetta against conservative legislators. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Why the name?

After he was nominated in 2010, but before he was elected, Haslam took the unusual step of forming a PAC called Jobs4TN. It raised a modest sum of money in the 2012 election cycle, but generally just farted around politically, with no significant impact. Curiously, Haslam’s department of economic development (ECD) created a seemingly unrelated program with the same unusual name of Jobs4TN less than two months after he was sworn in. How and why did they use the exact same name? Was it merely a coincidence? Hard to say, but by now we should have learned there is nothing coincidental about these yahoos.

The 2014 Attack on Fellow Republicans — Worse than we knew.

At precisely the same time AdvanceTN PAC was spending hundreds of  thousands in attack ads and mailings in an attempt to knock off conservative legislators, Jobs4TN PAC was also playing big during the primary — activity that generated just one news article. During the nearly four years from its inception in 2010 until April 1st of 2014, the PAC raised about $80,000 and handed out about $40,000 in contributions (giving legislative leadership almost all of the money to launder out to the governor’s allies). By the beginning of the 2nd quarter of 2014, the reserves had dwindled down to just over $27,000. During all of 2013 and early 2014, the PAC did not raise a single dime.

But then came the revolt in the House over the governor’s Common Core program on March 13, 2014.  House leadership and the governor were gob-smacked by the repudiation of Common Core. Immediately following that humiliating defeat was when Jobs4TN PAC kicked into high gear.  Cate and others began trying to recruit candidates to run against incumbent Republicans.

On June 13, 2014 Haslam directed his campaign to write a check for $75,000 to the Jobs4TN PAC. Two weeks later, he had the campaign write the PAC another check for $25,000. Then just 5 days later Haslam sent another $20,000 to Jobs4TN. All told, the Jobs4TN PAC raised and spent nearly 1/3 of a million dollars in the 2014 election cycle, the huge majority of its expenditures coming immediately before the GOP primary, with not a single contribution going to the conservative legislators who had come under attack by Advance TN PAC. Coincidence? Hah.

Jobs4TN PAC contributed over $200,000 in the weeks leading to the 2014 GOP primary, almost exclusively to the personal campaigns funds of his (unopposed) legislative leadership allies and campaign accounts they controlled as well as huge payments to vendors for unspecified political activity directed by Haslam and Cate.

So what did the mysterious Jobs4TN PAC spend its money on? Research has provided some disturbing information.

$130,000 for “Polling and Research?”

The governor was running for reelection in 2014 and had his own campaign fund (run by Jeremy “The Germ” Harrell, who of course now works for Mark Cate. Funny how that works, right?). Any polling or research done by his campaign in his cakewalk to re-election was paid for out of that fund. So why did the governor and his allies feel the need to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Jobs4TN PAC just before the primary and to spend over $130,000 for campaign firms to conduct activities that they only described as “polling & research?” Why indeed.

One of the firms to receive a large payout ($25,144) was the infamous Jackson-Alvarez group in Virginia. This firm is well-known to most of the RTP crew for their nasty “opposition research” capabilities, designed to dig up personal dirt on candidates and their families. They did their dirty work and delivered the results to the Jobs4TN PAC in late June, 2014 – just in time for the attack ads and mailings on the conservative GOP legislators. What did Jobs4TN do with the research? Did they share it with AdvanceTN?

Jobs4TN also spent $74,000 with Public Opinion Strategies (POS), a Virginia polling firm, just before the primaries. $74,000 buys a lot damn polling, especially in a legislative race. Did Jobs4TN piggy-back any questions or poll about the races of the Republican legislators that were soon to come under attack by AdvanceTN PAC?

Here  may be the answer:  Even though Jobs4TN spent big money on polls just before the primary, AdvanceTN simultaneously spent nearly $300,000 in media attacking Republicans without spending a dime on polling!

Why is that significant? The first thing any political consultant will tell you is that you do not start running TV ads and dropping mail pieces without a poll first.  But for some strange reason, AdvanceTN did not feel it necessary to employ that most basic rule of political campaigns.  Why was that? Could it be that they already had polling data on individual races from another source?

RTP is willing to bet Bill Haslam’s quarterly Pilot dividend check that the reason AdvanceTN did not spend any money on polling was because they already had polling paid for by someone else.

It gets worse.

Another firm, Jenson Strategic Partners, received $17,500 for unspecified services. Jenson was formed in 2013 by Georgia political operative Paul Bennecke, who –Ta-Da! — was hired by Bill Haslam in late 2014 to be the new executive director of the Republican Governor’s Association after Haslam’s election to head the RGA. This is not the first time that Haslam used an RGA operative to go after conservatives in the Tennessee legislature. The Haslam camp was vehemently opposed to now-Rep. Jason Zachary in a special election to fill Rep. Ryan Haynes’ seat,  In an August 2015 special election, yet another former RGA employee by the unfortunate name of Bryce Kornegay, was paid an unusually large sum for a legislative election for — you guessed it — “polling and research” – for the unsuccessful campaign of the Haslam-picked candidate, Karen Carson. Zachary beat the snot out of Carson.

The Link to AdvanceTN PAC

Bennecke has a long-time, close business associate – Nick Ayres — who has a record of attacking conservative candidates in Republican primaries. A good example is the attack on Jack Kingston in the 2014 Georgia U.S. Senate GOP primary through a super PAC. The media for the attacks were designed to help David Perdue, the less conservative of the two candidates, and was run by a firm called Target Enterprises of Los Angeles. Ayres is a partner in Target Enterprises.

By ama-a-a-zing coincidence, Target Enterprises was the very firm hired by Advance TN PAC to attack GOP conservatives in the 2014 primary.

During the general election and after their attacks on conservative legislators, Advance TN did contribute to a handful of first-time conservative candidates (it is noteworthy that none of the GOP legislators who had survived the PAC’s attacks received any contributions whatsoever). But as they teach you in Sunday School, you can’t buy your way to salvation. The damage had already been done.

So to sum up, while AdvanceTN (created and approved by the governor and his allies) was attacking conservative incumbent Republican legislators in the 2014 August primaries, the governor was quietly funding a parallel PAC (Jobs4TN) that was spending huge sums during the same primaries. When contemplating the actual purpose of the Jobs4TN expenditures, it becomes almost impossible to give the governor any benefit of doubt that they were used, directly or indirectly, to do anything except to aid and abet the governor’s AdvanceTN attacks on fellow elected Republicans.

“Deceitful and slimy” hardly begin to describe what the governor and his henchmen tried to do to conservative members of their own party.

UP NEXT: What does all this mean?

 

 

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