News Column

Finance problems dog Tennessee 3rd District Republicans

July 18, 2014

By Louie Brogdon, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.



July 18--Three weeks ahead of the Aug. 7 primary -- and just before the start of early voting today -- Tennessee 3rd Congressional District candidate Weston Wamp faces a federal complaint over his campaign finances.

A Signal Mountain businessman said he filed a Federal Election Commission complaint on Thursday over pay Wamp has received from his employer during the campaign.

Wamp, 27, is challenging two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the Republican primary. The winner will face Democrat Mary Headrick in November.

Citing figures from Wamp's personal financial disclosure, businessman Ralph Mann said Thursday he questioned Wamp's employment status on the campaign trail.

The Times Free Press reported this week that if Wamp has been campaigning on paid leave from his employer, the Lamp Post Group -- as the company's founder said he has early this month -- his salary could be considered a campaign contribution.

"My concern is that Weston Wamp is being paid to run for Congress and that he is receiving political contributions that are not reported as such," Mann wrote in his complaint.

Wamp, and another Lamp Post partner, Jack Studer, repeated Thursday that Wamp has been working full-time through the campaign and is not on paid leave.

"We are very confident we are in compliance, and I feel very comfortable that I've worked as this campaign has unfolded," Wamp said.

Meanwhile, the FEC has notified Fleischmann's campaign -- for the second time -- that it needs to correct his April campaign report.

For his part, Wamp said a federal report on which Mann is basing his complaint is confusing.

The candidate filed a disclosure with the House of Representatives on May 14 showing the Lamp Post Group paid him $67,203 in the "current to year" column and $24,000 in the "preceding year" column.

Wamp said those numbers are tricky.

The $67,203 likely refers to his salary from May 2013 to May 2014, since his Lamp Post Group salary increased from $50,000 to $72,000 in 2013. But he said the $24,000 is likely for only five months of 2013.

"I've never made $24,000 in a year," Wamp said.

Asked what Wamp has been doing for Lamp Post Group for the past six months, Studer offered a list of projects. Along with providing "general guidance and leadership" for a host of Lamp Post Group companies, Studer said Wamp provided key public relations guidance to Access America executives during that company's merger with Coyote early this year. He said Wamp also helped connect social media branding consultant Gary Vaynerchuk to Lamp Post Group and assisted startup PriceWaiter in developing a press and marketing strategy.

"We're very pleased with his work -- he's a key part of the Lamp Post Group team and continues to demonstrate his expertise and leadership," Studer said.

Mann's complaint asks the FEC to conduct an "immediate investigation" and impose the maximum penalty on Wamp.

Larry Noble, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center and former general council for the FEC, said it's "highly unlikely the complaint will be resolved before the election."

Noble said the FEC will review the complaint if it's received, notify Wamp and hear his side of the story. Then the commission could dismiss the complaint, try to settle the matter or sue Wamp for civil penalties.

"But it's a six-member commission and there's a vote each step of the way," Noble said.

Civil penalties can be as much as the amount of any illegal campaign contribution, but they are often much less, Noble said.

In its second notice to Fleischmann's campaign about a faulty April report, The FEC letter indicated that 12 values on one column of the report "appear to be incorrect." It said Fleischmann needed to correct the issue by Wednesday or face a possible audit.

No correction was filed by Thursday, but Jordan Powell, a spokesman for the campaign, said late Thursday that the error was caused by an incorrect date range, and it has been fixed.

This is the second glitch for Fleischmann's April filing. In a request for additional information filed April 21, the FEC found Fleischmann had accepted too much money from several contributors. That money was later returned, according to later filings.

Noble said such requests "are relatively routine."

"Sometimes the numbers don't add up, or on its face a report doesn't look right," Noble said. "They can vary from relatively routine or something more serious. If you don't respond and the matter is at all substantive, the FEC may perform an audit."

But even innocent mistakes add up, he said.

"Even in they all just look like mathematical problems, or clerical errors, the FEC may audit anyway," Noble said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

___

(c)2014 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)

Visit the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.) at www.timesfreepress.com

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Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)


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