As the race for Tennessee’s new 5th Congressional district narrows, former House Speaker Beth Harwell says if elected, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles will be beholden to Washington D.C.-insider groups, which have spent $1.6 million boosting his campaign.
“It’s clear if Andy Ogles wins, he will be controlled by the DC swamp,” Harwell said in a statement. “He owes everything to them, and I don't think that’s right for the people of middle Tennessee.”
Outside super PACs — including one funded exclusively by Ogles’ campaign treasurer Lee Beaman — have spent nearly $1.6 million in recent weeks in supposedly independent expenditures boosting Ogles and attacking his rivals, according to FEC filings — nearly as much as Ogles’ top two competitors have spent this cycle combined.
Meanwhile, Ogles has admitted to directing donors to super PACs working in tandem with his campaign — a violation of federal campaign finance law — after news broke that Beaman is the sole donor to a super PAC that has spent on Ogles’ behalf.
During an interview last week on Super Talk 99.7, Ogles publicly admitted his campaign has adopted a strategy of directing donors who otherwise would have donated to his campaign toward PACs purchasing positive ads in tandem with the campaign instead. Ogles’ campaign did not respond to questions about his admission.
“Of course, you can’t coordinate. You can’t communicate,” Ogles told SuperTalk 99.7 host Michael DelGiorno. “But JD Vance, you know, his campaign worked in parallel with a PAC that did positive things on his behalf. … We chose that strategy. We firewalled off some of our donors away from the campaign to go run positive ads.”
While federal law limits individuals from contributing more than $2,900 per election to federal candidates, super PACs have no limit on contributions from individual donors. Super PACs have no limit on spending, either — but federal law prohibits candidates and their campaigns from coordinating with super PACs.
Once directed toward super PACs by Ogles and his team, the super PACs have made supposedly independent expenditures toward Ogles’ campaign, financing mailers, canvassing, donation processing fees and positive and negative ad buys. In total, a group of five super PACs have spent more than $1.6 million with almost no overlap.
“There’s been radio, there’s been mailers, there’s been doors knocked that I have not been able to control because the campaign wasn’t doing it,” Ogles said.
Ogles explains this strategy — which seems to violate federal prohibition on coordinating PAC contributions — has freed up money for the campaign to use for day-to-day operating expenses and has even allowed Ogles to keep his campaign staff lean to keep costs low.
“I doubled my money doing what JD Vance did in Ohio,” Ogles said. “It’s working for me, and I expect to win.”
Ogles claims his team instituted a firewall, which could stop the flow of information between super PACs making expenditures and Ogles’ campaign. The campaign did not respond to questions on whether a written firewall policy statement, which is required under federal law, had been circulated to all impacted parties.
PACs funded by the free-market Club for Growth and tied to libertarian billionaire Charles Koch have spent nearly $800,000 on ads supporting Ogles and another $475,000 on attack ads against Harwell and retired Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead.
Ogles’ actual campaign has raised less than $250,000 in contributions, according to FEC disclosures.
“Tennessee’s 5th District has become the newest playground for Washington DC insider groups looking to handpick the next representative,” Harwell said. “They can’t vote in this district. I bet most have never even been to Tennessee, but they’ve spent millions misleading voters and propping up Andy Ogles.”
A new super PAC called Government of the People spent nearly $45,000 supporting Harwell last week, according to FEC disclosures. Former state lawmaker Debra Maggart, who is now a lobbyist with CivicPoint LLC, is listed as the PAC's treasurer.
Donors to the PAC are not yet disclosed, but Maggart told Main Street Nashville that all funds raised so far have been from within Tennessee, with the vast majority coming from within the boundaries of the 5th Congressional district.
Ads funded by Ogles-supporting PACs have criticized Harwell for being “too liberal” because she was endorsed by a state affiliate of the National Education Association during her 2018 bid for governor, and she supported the Improve Act of 2017 — which increased the state gas tax by six cents over three years — and repealed the state’s last vestige of income tax: the Hall income tax on interest and dividends.
Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 4.