Attacks and financial troubles color the GOP US House race in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Republican dust over who is trying to flip a Democratic congressional seat in Nashville this fall has reached its final week, awash in attacks, one candidate’s campaign finance issues and even a lawsuit for a television advertisement.

As early voting winds down in the Aug. 4 primary election, voters in Tennessee’s open 5th congressional district have become familiar with nonstop TV ads from vaguely named groups blasting one of the top three fundraising hopefuls. of funds in the field of nine GOP candidates — Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, former State House Speaker Beth Harwell and retired Tennessee National Guard Brig. General Kurt Winstead.

The multimillion-dollar blitz follows efforts by GOP lawmakers to divide Nashville three ways in the US House redistricting earlier this year, favoring their party. For Democrats, State Sen. Heidi Campbell advances through November unopposed.

Ogles is drawing attacks from conservative US PACs and conservative Tennessee PACs, the latter whose largest donation — $1 million — came from Oracle executive chairman Larry Ellison.

The group’s ad claims Ogles failed to pay his property taxes nine times over and notes that Ogles supported passing a referendum on the county’s 2020 sales tax increase. The Online Archive show that Ogles paid his property taxes but was late — from days several times to more than 300 days once.

This announcement prompted Ogles to file a libel suit.

Meanwhile, Ogles is receiving a boost from two Club for Growth-related groups – School Freedom Fund and USA Freedom Fund.

A USA Freedom Fund ad targets Harwell for a 2001 bill that allowed people without a Social Security number — including those in the country illegally — to get a driver’s license, without mentioning his later support for delete it. The ad even links it to 9/11 because some of the hijackers used driver’s licenses and IDs from various states, but not Tennessee.

Harwell’s campaign touted her immigration record, saying a loophole had been discovered in the 2001 law and said she had co-sponsored a proposed change. Attempts to repeal failed, and a 2004 law instead offered those without a Social Security number a driver’s license for up to one year. The program was suspended in 2006.

His campaign criticized Ogles’ endorsement by Americans for Prosperity, for which he previously served as state director for Tennessee, for his call for border security reforms coupled with “a path to permanent legal status for current undocumented immigrants”. Ogles didn’t take that position in a recent debate, saying, “If you’re here illegally, you have to have a work visa and you’ll never become a citizen.”

The School Freedom Fund has received $15 million from billionaire Pennsylvania investor Jeff Yass. He criticized Harwell and Winstead, lambasting his votes in the Democratic primaries in 2008 and earlier, and donations exceeding $2,500 to Democrats a dozen or more years ago. His federal donations to Republicans exceed $36,000.

Ogles drew attention to his campaign finances, which he reported a week late and below what he had previously claimed. In May, he said he raised $453,000 in the first 30 days of his campaign. Later, he brought in $247,100 from donors through June, plus a loan of $320,000. Ogles’ most recent report shows he’s raised an additional $17,300 through mid-July.

The delay could result in thousands of dollars in fines from the Federal Election Commission.

The delay and discrepancy in Ogles’ reporting was condemned by Winstead.

“It’s hard for people to gain the trust of someone who deliberately doesn’t file financial returns according to the law, doesn’t pay their bills and generally misleads the public,” said Chris Devaney, consultant for the Winstead campaign.

Ogles also raised eyebrows over a super PAC expense to get him elected, while listing Lee Beaman — Ogles’ campaign chairman, according to a May press release — as the only outside group contributor, at $50,000. Main Street Nashville first reported the connection.

During an appearance on WTN radio this week, Ogles said he first counted “the money that we had on hand, the money that was promised” but then “threw some of our campaign donors to run positive ads,” noting that “You can’t coordinate. You cannot communicate.

Super PACs raise and spend unlimited funds to support federal candidates, but cannot coordinate with political campaigns.

Harwell’s campaign denounced how much outside groups are spending on Ogles compared to his own campaign, arguing that he “will be controlled by the DC swamp” if he wins. Winstead’s campaign spent more than $1.2 million; Harwell, about $600,000; and Ogles, about $301,000.

Candidates take swings themselves as well. A Harwell ad calls Ogles a DC insider, lobbyist and tax collector. An ad for Winstead calls his rivals “two career politicians.” Without naming Harwell, Ogles in a debate criticized her for supporting a state gas tax increase in 2017, without mentioning several related tax breaks.

The Republican redistricting ultimately led to Democratic U.S. Representative Jim Cooper not running again because he did not believe he could win one of Nashville’s new GOP-friendly seats. Fighting on the GOP grounds ensued, prompting Republican Party officials in the state to eliminate three GOP candidates from the ballot, including former President Donald Trump’s endorsed nominee Morgan Ortagus.