The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance voted recently to hold a show-cause hearing regarding a complaint filed in June by a Hendersonville woman against the Hendersonville Firefighters Association PAC.
Pam Lecerf filed a sworn complaint June 3 alleging the PAC, a political arm of Hendersonville Firefighters Association Local 3460, has failed to itemize or disclose where contributions are coming from in violation of state election law.
“The only way to get to the bottom [of the complaint] is to set a show-cause hearing so we can hear from the PAC,” TREF member Tom Morton said during the Sept. 9 meeting in Nashville. The six-member, independent board is responsible for the enforcement of state campaign finance laws.
According to Janet Williams, Chief of Staff for the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, the board could have voted to dismiss the complaint or issue a show-cause hearing.
“The hearing gives [the PAC] a chance to respond,” she said. Williams said the hearing will likely be held during the board’s next meeting in December – after the Nov. 3 elections. At that time, the PAC will be allowed to submit a statement in response to the complaint or personally appear before the board, Williams added.
Hendersonville Fire Marshal Paul Varble has been the PAC’s treasurer for more than a decade.
Varble said the PAC money comes from members of the Hendersonville Firefighters Association, a local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters and the Tennessee Professional Firefighters Association.
“We’ve filed our PAC reports since 2008,” said Varble. “We’ve filed them timely and accurately and the accusations are baseless and the facts will show that.”
In her complaint, Lecerf points out that state law requires that political contributions of more than $100 be itemized and the donor’s name disclosed.
“Through its 11 years of existence, the Hendersonville Firefighters PAC has never itemized a contributor even though it raised $62,000,” Lecerf writes. “The PAC’s reports claim that no contributions were above $100, the threshold requiring itemization. Raising $62,000 in contributions under $100 is extremely unlikely.”
But Varble says that is the case.
“The association has nearly 100 members who contribute regularly to the PAC in an amount far less than the minimum requirements of $100 to disclose,” he said.
The association announced endorsements for mayor and aldermen candidates for the Nov. 3 city election in mid-August.
The group is endorsing challenger Brenda Payne for mayor and several aldermen candidates who have supported the position of a city administrator.
The group typically makes financial contributions to the candidates it endorses in September or October of an election year.
In 2016, the PAC donated $5,000 to mayoral candidate David Kimbrough. Kimbrough lost to current Mayor Jamie Clary in a four-person race. Aldermen candidates endorsed by the PAC in 2016 received anywhere from $500 to $2,000.
According to the PAC’s most recent disclosures filed July 28, it had an on-hand balance of $24,231.
Lecerf, who spoke against the hiring of a city administrator in May of 2019, could not be reached for comment regarding her complaint.