Nearly one-third of the Metro Council has failed to file their required campaign finance disclosures, with three members making none at all since their election more than two years ago, according to papers filed with the Davidson County Election Commission.
At-Large Councilmembers Sharon Hurt and Steve Glover have not filed since fall 2019, and neither has District 1 Councilmember Jonathan Hall. Hurt, who has been mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate, actually had a negative campaign balance of -$245.73 in her September 2019 filing. Glover’s October 2019 disclosure showed almost $2,500 in his account.
Hall, meanwhile, has been in trouble with the state’s Registry of Election Finance, which levied a $360,000 fine and banned him from running for elected office until he resolves the matter.
“He’s been living out of this account like it’s his personal checking account,” registry member Tom Lawless said at a hearing last month.
As of Thursday afternoon, 10 other councilmembers failed to file their disclosures, which were due Jan. 31: Robert Swope, Tonya Hancock, Larry Hagar, Freddie O’Connell, Mary Carolyn Roberts, Brandon Taylor, Thom Druffel, Russ Pulley, Sandra Sepulveda and Antoinette Lee. Tennessee doesn’t require a detailed disclosure of expenditures and contributions if they total less than $1,000, but all candidates with open campaign accounts are required to file outstanding balances and obligations.
“Transparency in knowing where and how campaign money is spent is essential,” says Debby Gould, president of the League of Women Voters Tennessee. “It lets us know who elected officials are listening to and how they are prioritizing their voting.”
Some of these accounts are relatively small. Swope’s campaign account, for example, has just $6.70 in it, while Taylor’s has $29.16, according to their disclosures from the summer. But others are significantly larger, including Pulley’s ($32,103.79) and Hagar’s ($12,772.41). Hagar has pulled a petition to run for a Circuit Court seat in the May primary and is allowed to convert those funds to the new race, according to counsel for the Registry of Election Finance. Hagar has not filed a disclosure with the state yet.
O’Connell, who has also attracted some mayoral buzz, has the largest war chest on the Metro Council at $76,325.
“At the end of the 2019 campaign, after our campaign office closed, I discovered that some financial records had been discarded that made reconciling disclosure records with bank statements more difficult,” O’Connell says. “I hired a CPA to audit everything to ensure that everything is in order as I prepare to close the 2019 account. I had hoped to timely file, but we were working to track down a few final details and should have everything submitted within a few days.”
Failure to make timely campaign disclosures may result in civil fines, such as the ones against Hall, which the candidate is personally liable for.