Get in the car, kids, it's time for a road trip! We're off to Tennessee to visit a political scandal so tiny and perfect in its sleaziness that all who behold it are filled with joy, or at least an extremely satisfying case of schadenfreude and hope that it'll come back around to bite a familiar villain in the ass. (Wait for it!)

Yesterday the US Attorney from the Middle District of Tennessee announced an indictment of state Sen. Brian Kelsey and "social club owner" Joshua Smith on campaign finance charges. It is a delightful document full of fun little Easter eggs like:

Unindicted Coconspirator 2 ("UCC 2") was a practicing attorney and member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from in or around January 2013 to in or around September 2016, when he was expelled by a vote of the House.

O RLLY?

Or this:

Individual 1 was the Director of Government Affairs for Political Organization 1 and a member of Political Organization 1's senior management team from in or around late 2015 until in or around March 2017. In that role, Individual 1 managed Political Organization 1's political expenditures during the 2015-16 federal election cycle. Individual 1 and KELSEY became engaged in or around July 2017 and married in or around January 2018.

That egg is chocolate!


Naturally, the "social club" run by Defendant Smith has a PAC, as all your better single-outlet eating establishments do. (LOL, wut?) And according to the indictment, the defendants used this PAC to move $106,000 from Kelsey's state campaign coffers to support his 2016 run for the US House — an illegal use of so called "soft money" because the state campaign donations are not subject to federal campaign finance limits. So to disguise the transfer, these two geniuses moved the cash from Kelsey's state campaign to the "social club" PAC, and thence on through one more PAC until it wound up at the American Conservative Union, which immediately dropped $80,000 on radio ads endorsing Kelsey's federal campaign.

What an amazing coincidence, right? Or maybe not.

Political Organization 1 reported to the FEC that, on or about July 20, 2016, it made a $30,000 independent expenditure for the purpose of a "radio media buy" to support KELSEY in the 2016 primary election when, in truth and in fact, the expenditure was coordinated with KELSEY and his agents and was not independent.

Political Organization 1 reported to the FEC that, on or about July 22, 2016, it made a $19,480 independent expenditure for the purpose of "radio media buy" to support KELSEY in the 2016 primary election when, in truth and in fact, the expenditure was coordinated with KELSEY and his agents and was not independent.

Political Organization 1 reported to the FEC that, on or about July 26, 2016, it made a $30,520 independent expenditure for the purpose of "radio/digital media" to support KELSEY in the 2016 primary election when, in truth and in fact, the expenditure was coordinated with KELSEY and his agents and was not independent.

If the American Conservative Union is ringing some bells, it's because it's that asshole Matt Schlapp's shop.

"It is often difficult to cut through confusing campaign rhetoric to figure out which candidate is the best conservative in a race, but we think this is actually an easy call. If voters in western Tennessee are looking for a proven leader with a conservative track record, the decision is easy. Brian Kelsey is the real deal," Schlapp said back in 2016.

Indeed, the feds have been poking around the ACU lately, as reported by The Dispatch earlier this month.

"They asked me about Matt Schlapp and [ACU Executive Director] Dan Schneider's involvement within the organization, how they were involved with the disbursements of money and the decision of who to financially support," one source said. "One of the questions that really stuck with me was, 'Was Matt Schlapp in those meetings when they decided who to endorse?' I said yes. And they said, 'So was he directly involved with the decisions to financially support the candidates?' I said, I don't know. And they said, 'But would it be weird if Matt Schlapp didn't know?' I said yes."

Well, well, well! We'd also note that the ACU took in $95,800 that originated from Kelsey's state campaign — ALLEGEDLY — and only dropped $80,000 on ads. So ... make of that one what you will.

The feds' interest seems to have been piqued by reporting in the Tennessean and an FEC complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center, which closely mirrors the DOJ's indictment. Support your local paper! CLC's complaint is also chock full of delicious little tidbits like this one.

On April 29, Kelsey's state PAC gave $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga. On May 3, Gardenhire personally gave $1,000 to Kelsey for Congress.

On December 28, 2015, Kelsey's state PAC gave $1,000 to Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville. On February 10, Dickerson personally gave $1,000 to Kelsey for Congress. On April 27, Kelsey's state campaign committee gave $3,000 to Dickerson's campaign. On June 23, Dickerson personally gave $500 to Kelsey's federal campaign committee.

On April 22, 2016, Kelsey's state PAC records show a $1,000 contribution to Rep. Ron Gant, R-Rossville. On June 23, Gant personally gave $1,000 to Kelsey for Congress.

Subtle.

So now Kelsey and Smith are facing a five-count indictment for conspiracy, exceeding campaign finance limits, and illegally transferring soft money to a federal campaign.

Naturally, Kelsey knows who is to blame for this whole mess, and it is President Joe Biden.

Cool story, bro. Oh, sorry, we mean cool story Senator. Because Kelsey remains a member of the state legislature, not the US House after coming in fourth place in that fateful 2016 congressional bid. Womp womp.

[Tennesseean / Tennesseean / Dispatch / CLC Complaint / US v. Kelsey, Docket via Court Listener]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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