A Brentwood man says his political action committee complaint against Project 912 was filed to gain clarity on Tennessee campaign finance law.
Parent and attorney Roger Abramson on Monday filed with the State Registry of Election Finance his claims that a group known as “Project 912” is an unregistered PAC.
Project 912 is a national group created by TV and radio personality Glenn Beck. It describes itself as an organization that shares some viewpoints with the Tea Party and promotes “personal responsibility, acknowledgment of God our creator, individuals being free to choose if and when they’ll practice charity, and parents being the final authority for how they’ll raise their children.”
Lee Douglas, founder of the group’s Tennessee branch, is named in Abramson’s complaint, along with Project 912’s former secretary, Cyndi Miller. Tennessee’s Project 912 branch describes itself as “designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001.”
Miller campaigned unsuccessfully in 2014 for a District 6 seat on the Williamson County Commission and was supported by Douglas, which is noted in Abramson’s complaint.
Abramson said Douglas and Miller endorsed and collected donations for particular candidates in last year’s state and local elections.
He quotes a public post prior to last August’s election in which Douglas names the county school board and state Senate and House candidates he would support.
Douglas also is cited for hosting a campaign party in support of the school board’s current vice-chair, Beth Burgos, who was first elected in the August 2014 election.
Miller is named for contributing $500 to Burgos’ campaign, $1,000 to school board member Susan Curlee and campaigning for State House candidate Steve Gawrys, who lost his election bid to incumbent State Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin.
Abramson said he may add names to the complaint.
Local 912 member Chuck Shelton also is named in the documentation for spending $260 to purchase voter data from the county election commission.
Abramson said he filed his complaint because of the Registry’s May ruling on a similar case against local group Williamson Strong.
Williamson Strong is a group founded by five parents who support Williamson County Schools, advocated for incumbent candidates in last year’s school board election, and has questioned the conduct of some board members elected in August 2014. One of those board members, Susan Curlee, filed the complaint against the group.
In May, the Registry ruled Williamson Strong is an unregistered PAC and issued civil penalties of $5,000. The organization not only appealed the ruling but filed a federal lawsuit against the state claiming multiple violations of First Amendment rights.
Abramson said he is not affiliated with Williamson Strong.
“After the Williamson Strong ruling, as a citizen involved in politics, I don’t know what the rules are anymore,” he said.
“If I’m watching an election and I get all the neighborhood people together, all of a sudden I’ve got a PAC? People need to know what the rules are.”
The state determined Williamson Strong was a PAC based in part on public emails from last year that show correspondence between group founders and school district administration about the county election and which candidates to support.
But the Registry did not find evidence that Williamson Strong crossed the maximum $250 quarterly spending threshold to qualify as a PAC under state statute.
“I can see where you can make the argument that Project 912 and Williamson Strong are both PACs, as well as the argument where both are not,” Abramson said.
“I’m completely lost as to why Williamson Strong is a PAC and 912 is not. If there is a distinction, we need to know.”
A similar complaint was filed in June against the Williamson County Home-school Coalition (WCHC).
Asked then if the complaints are filed as a means to test whether the Registry will hold everyone to the same standard, Abramson said the complaints are a “natural outcome” to the Registry’s ruling on Williamson Strong.
“‘Evening the score’ is not my primary intention,” he said. “My interest is in knowing the rules. It’s a gray area.”
Douglas said both Abramson’s complaint and the one against the WCHC are vengeful in nature.
“This complaint is the same as was recently filed by Williamson Strong against the local home-school association and is retaliatory because the Tennessee ethics commission found Mr. Abramson and his group in violation of this same state law,” Douglas told the Home Pages on Monday.
Abramson and Gael Morkel — the parent who filed the complaint against the WCHC — said they did not lodge their respective complaints on behalf of Williamson Strong.
“The irony of Williamson Strong’s appeal on ethics charges is that ethics is the science of morals; something absent in this group who knowingly is dishonest, deceptive, manipulative of facts and sufficiently anti-Christian to publicly oppose references to God, Christianity and our Christian heritage in deference to solstice-worship in our county school system,” Douglas said.
In November last year, the school board by a narrow margin voted against naming the district’s semester holiday a “Christmas break.” Many parents, including Williamson Strong supporters, were vocally opposed to calling the time off a “Christmas break,” claiming such a term would exclude students who don’t observe the holiday.
“The ultimate irony is that complainant Abramson and his group want a retaliatory investigation of 912 by the ethics commission who now, they claim in the appeal, has violated their First Amendment rights. Once again, the left claims it is bad law and wants exemption from laws for themselves but work to force government into full-bore enforcement against those they oppose.”
Douglas once had children in the county’s public school system, but he still attends WCS meetings on occasion. He has addressed the board during public comment, criticized School Superintendent Mike Looney, and launched a petition last February to oust the school leader.
A critic of Williamson Strong, Douglas said he hoped all Williamson County citizens learn about the group “and what it is they and their intimidation are all about.”
The Registry of Election finance is a six-member board appointed by the governor, the speaker of the House and the speaker of the Senate. The board will set a date to review Abramson’s complaint and determine whether the complaint merits further deliberation.
Jessica Pace covers Williamson County, Williamson County Schools and the Town of Nolensville for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Jess_NHP.